Huge thanks to Flora for the race bib for this year’s London Marathon!
London Marathon 2023 Race Recap
Maths is hard, it’s even harder when you’re 3 and a half hours into a marathon and dealing with a GPS watch that has gone haywire around Canary Wharf.
I was trying to work out, based on average pace, overall time and distance I thought I had left, whether I could run a sub 4. It’s not a calculation I thought I would be making on race day this year having predicted a finish time between 4.15 and 4.30.
The first few miles of the London Marathon are downhill. More so than I remembered, so the sub 9 min mile paces that were popping through on my watch didn’t surprise me too much. I told myself to relax, calm down and back off, knowing that you do NOT want to go out too fast in a marathon. Banking time is not smart.
I’ve been run/walking for all of my long runs this summer, using a 9:1 (run/walk) strategy which has been great to fuel, hydrate and generally, enjoy the runs more. (Find out why I love run/walking here). When the weather forecast was predicting rain on race day, I made the decision not to run with my hydration pack to minimise risk of chafing and planned to use the water stations every mile or so for my walk breaks. The first water station on the course isn’t until mile 3 when the three different start areas converge so I planned to run the first 3 miles, walk for 1 min for my first gel, then walk every mile thereafter.
That strategy went out the window almost immediately.
I ran the first 3 miles, walked 1 minute to fuel then started running again. I was feeling great so decided to adjust my plan and just walk for 1 minute every 30 minutes to take my gels….except for the next 30 minutes was at Cutty Sark which was packed with spectators and photographers – so I decided to just wait until I was past the craziness for my walk break. Then I saw my friend George on course and was so hyped, I forgot to take the walk (but did remember the gel!).
The next milestone was to get to my Mum at Mile 9. We always watch the marathon together here so I knew roughly where she’d be, and got her text on my watch that she was on the right hand side of the road. I easily found her, grabbed some gels from her and ran off!
I was trying to stick to the blue line as much as possible, trying to run the tangents when I could. Coming up to Tower Bridge, you know you are halfway-ish but the hardest part is yet to come. I hit 13.1 in 1.57.55. Honestly I kept thinking of Ali Fellar’s saying ‘positive splits for positive people’. I was out there to have fun, enjoy the race and see friends and if I slowed down in the second half, so be it.
Depending on your pace, this point in the race is where the championship runners are heading to the finish line with about Mile 22 on the other side of the road. I made it my goal to see if I could spot anyone I knew, and was thrilled to see Tom Hollis having an awesome day – his enthusiasm and shouts for me were such a boost!
Running towards Canary Wharf things always get tough.
I had figured out I just needed to maintain about a 9 min mile average and I could squeak under 4 hours, however my Garmin started going haywire, and beeped a 7.11 min mile for mile 20. I was wearing two watches on race day, testing out the new Apple Ultra, and at this point, I ignored my Garmin and focused only on average pace on the Apple watch. (Full review coming next week!)
I also managed to miss a bunch of people I knew in Canary Wharf – I didn’t have my name on my top so when I heard people shouting Charlie, I assumed there was someone running near me with the name on their top! Thank you for everyone out there cheering – honestly the crowds make the London Marathon. Every year they grow bigger, with more bands, musicians and parties on the streets.
Turning back towards the finish line out of Canary Wharf gives mixed emotions. Pleased that you’re on the way ‘home’, and a little overwhelmed that you still have 5-6 miles of running left. Most people in training only reach 20 miles so this stretch is the unknown.
I focused on the fact that I have run the stretch of river from Tower Bridge to the Westin once a month for over a year.
I concentrated on seeing my Mum and friends at KM 38, and told myself that if I ran a sub 4 I didn’t have to run Chicago Marathon (still tbd!). It’s funny the bargaining you go through with yourself during a marathon!
Looking through these photos now, I’ve just spotted Mara behind me – I wish I had known we were so close. It would have made that final mile more enjoyable!!
I had my friend Emily and her husband Phil just before Mile 25 – I ran my first marathon 10 years ago with Emily in London and Phil is running it in April! Then it was on to see Tom at St James with Chester – I had planned to go up to them but knowing how close I was to sub 4 (and knowing how much my legs were hurting!) I waved and ran on. There was no 800m to go sign so I started to panic that I had miscalculated, it was a relief to see the 400m sign!
There was no real sprint finish. Just a slog to throw myself over that final timing mat. I always think about friends and family getting updates on the tracking app when I cross a timing mat and try to stay strong and positive as I cross them.
I was far more emotional than I expected when I crossed that finish line. I had zero time goals going into the race but certainly I did not think Sub 4 was possible. Nothing in my training over the past 6 weeks suggested it was which just shows the power of the crowds, carbs and muscle memory!
How I Fueled during the London Marathon
I’ve been taking Featherstone Nutrition’s group nutrition course this summer which encouraged me to try a range of gels and practice with fueling during marathon training. I took more gels during London Marathon than I have in previous races, taking a Precision Fuel & Hydration gel every 30 minutes. I took two caffeine gels at 2 hours and 2.5 hours, drank 6 full bottles of water on course and two cups of Lucozade. Next time, I would add in extra electrolytes, either salt pills or a drink. I carried three gels with me to start and collected another four from my Mum at Mile 9!
My Race Outfit
I wore an outfit I have worn for many, many runs this summer. These Sweaty Betty shorts have become a firm favourite (although I wish they had a second side pocket). The tank is from New Balance – I love it so much, I have it in 5 colours! And the shoes were the new Asics Novoblast 3s – I ran my 20 miler in them with zero issues and have done most of my long runs in the Novoblast 2 this cycle. I had considered trying a pair of Carbon plated shoes but knowing I wasn’t going for a PB, it was an expensive I couldn’t justify.
Where to stay for the London Marathon
Obviously, as the Westin London City Run ambassador, I am biased, but it was SO easy to stay there for race weekend (my race nights were gifted as part of my partnership with them). My friend Liz and her husband were also staying there, as was my Mum. We all had the carb loading pasta dinner on Saturday evening, then Liz and I had a carb filled pre-race breakfast before walking the 8 minutes to London Bridge on race morning. We hopped on a train the two stops to Blackheath from there and were at the start within 30 mins.
Similarly, post-race I got on the District Line at Embankment and was back at the Westin with time to see Cortney run past. The hotel is at KM 38 directly on the course so made the perfect spectator location for my friends (especially those with kids that needed access to loos and food!), plus my Mum was able to leave her bags there and spectate without lugging around a suitcase. Highly recommend it for anyone coming in from out of town, especially those with kids or less mobile spectators.
Plus the post race fizz was the perfect way to celebrate with friends! Our group had everyone from sub 3 marathoners to those who ran 5.30+ showing that the marathon is for everyone! London showed up on Sunday and despite saying I probably didn’t need to run London again, I find myself drawn to the ballot…. Who else is entering?