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I ran London Marathon 2024 and loved it ~Caroline Chilton-Bates




In early 2023 I had the strangest notion that I needed to run a marathon. It was something that had always been on my bucket list and in my younger days had applied several times, been unsuccessful and so channelled my energy into rowing, half marathons and those crazy mud runs which take you through bogs, up and down dales which spit you out after 10 miles or so, exhausted and smelling like a rancid pheasant.

 

Imagine my surprise when I actually landed myself a ballot place for 2024! My first priority was to choose a charity that would be meaningful to help me through the tough times – hence Nerve Tumours UK, to support a young family member. Next step – the training!

 

Being a private chef, I knew I would have to be disciplined and organised as my work involves long hours, distant places and remote locations. There followed honest and candid conversations with Kerry and I was on my way. Memories of 9 mile runs in minus 7 in the highlands of Scotland before serving three course lunches will stick in my mind forever not to mention the make shift “Evian water bottle’ weights in France and the surprised look on the old farmers’ faces seeing some crazy English bird running along the farm tracks in their rural neighbourhoods.

 

As race day approached, I was determined not to overthink it. Then I began to worry I felt too calm so worried I didn’t have the fire in my belly and the long months of training were a blur so worried I hadn’t done enough, although I knew I had completed every training session apart from one week when I was struck by a hideous D and V bug early on.  In my mind, I knew I was ready – though never one for oodles of self-confidence, was scared to admit that to myself.

 

After a chilly 45 minutes waiting to start one banana, a marmite sandwich and two more wee stops later (just to be sure),I was off. “Oh my goodness”, I thought,” I am actually running a marathon!” In my head was the mantra ‘Keep it steady, keep it steady, breathe.” Mentally I had broken the race down into 10km chunks. I knew whatever happened the last 2km would happen one way or the other. The Cutty Sark came without me really thinking about it. ‘Great – 10km done already at a steady 10.29 min /mile– now it’s just a long training run’. I had passed the sub 4.40 pacer so all I had to do was hold my pace, let my natural rhythm take me and enjoy it.

 

 At mile 12, as I crossed Tower Bridge, I remember the advice “Don’t look left” as that was the crossover point and you could see the runners at 22 miles and the advice was, I may get demoralised.  My head was saying, ‘Don’t look, don’t look..Ah damn I looked. Actually they all look quite happy. OK so only 10 miles and I’ll be back this way. Stay positive, I’m feeling strong, my splits are even, smile. Good effort!”

 

Mile 14 was an added boost as I knew Alan and Freddie would be there somewhere. That made me smile even more. God, never mind the legs, my face was aching from smiling! 24 km in (14.9miles) time for a carb shot and although I felt strong, I didn’t want to tempt fate so was taking a gel cube every 8km – although by the third one it was taking me three attempts to bite it , chew it and swallow it. I ignored the Lucozade gel stations but did take the Lucozade sport even if my feet then stuck to the road for the next 50 paces or so as everyone thrust away their half empty offerings. Overtook another 4.40 pacer – surely he hadn’t passed me previously when I wasn’t looking – what was going on? Was so distracted by the pacer signs I didn’t see the speedbumps – ooh almost a faceplant! At 30km I stopped looking left at the km markings and averted my gaze right to the mile markers as they seemed to passing incredibly slowly and there seemed to be a lot more kms to tread than the mile markers. In my mind seeing I had run 19 miles did a lot more for my morale than 30km!

 

I’d already planned to put on a bit of music at 28km – “just for 10km and then I am almost home” - just as a minor distraction as I didn’t want to get too hung up on the 20 mile point. Ironically I could barely hear it as the surrounding noise was so loud. Hitting the 20 mile mark, mentally my brain went up a gear. “OK, come on, you’re tiring a bit but this is your last 10km, are you going to give it some?” Then the headwind hit me – holy smoke – that wasn’t in my race plan! At which point it was as if the field in front of me just stopped, more people walking than running, people stopping to take photos and backing into me, one guy suddenly stopping so I fully face planted into him as my legs weren’t reacting well enough to stop myself. Carnage and at that moment I despised them all as they were ‘interfering with my race!’ Glanced at my watch and was still holding a steady pace – it hadn’t altered much for 20 miles – Kerry described me as a metronome – I’ll take that!

 

A slight opening appeared and I was able to increase my cadence, my legs felt like springs and I knew I mustn’t stop as I may not get going again. At the face plant moment, my calves ached like I’d never experienced and I knew I just had to push through. An inner strength came from somewhere and it was carrying me along. “OK, this is it, 8km to go, finish it strong.” Short lived as more walkers and a narrowing of the track and I couldn’t get through. I felt like I was dancing – almost going backwards in fact. There would be no sprint finish at this rate! Saw another 4.40 pacer – getting very confused now and then as I overtook him, noticed (in the small print) that he was for the blue wave – well that explained a lot!

 

The crowd were going mad, shouting, cheering and willing everyone on. 5km to go. That wind was relentless, but it was only a park run to go. Could I up the pace a little? No - the head was willing but the legs wouldn’t respond. OK just had to keep it together, stand tall, relax, think posture. I am almost there. Round the corner to The Mall. I couldn’t see the finish line but I knew I was close. The sign said 385 yds – how far was that? Round the bend beyond Buckingham palace and 200m to go. Emotions were running high. I was about to finish my first ever marathon and not just any marathon  - the London Marathon! The final moments are a blur. I remember stopping my watch at 4.39.17 and not being able to read the time as my eyes were slightly bleary. I had done it - I may have come in position 33618 but I felt like a champion.

 

 

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