A day in the life of a Marathon Runner – No 31979 – Sophie D.

The abrupt alarm on Sunday 26th April came as a complete shock to the system: I floundered to stop its deafening ring, rolled over, wondered where I was and what was going on. The dial on the clock told me it was 5.00am; slowly, as I came to, it dawned on me ….ah yes!! London Marathon.

This was to be my second run in the London Marathon, last year being the first; my training, for one reason or another, had not been as intense this year and I was generally a bit apprehensive in the knowledge that I was perhaps not as well prepared as I should be. I was trying to kid myself that it didn’t matter – I had no targets beyond getting to the finish line – the time was quite secondary – I had no expectations. The reality was that I would be really disappointed if it didn’t get somewhere around my 2008 time of 3hrs 27mins; I had abandoned my original aim of finishing in under 3hrs 15mins a few weeks back when I conceded that I was not as focused as I should be at that time.

I had cadged a lift with my running partner from Aylesbury Athletic Club, Charlie Steptoe and her dad and I soon found myself on Blackheath, lined up at the red start in pen 2. There were some pretty serious looking characters in pen 2, hardly a strawberry or rhinoceros could be seen!! I was concerned that I had forgotten my black bin liner to keep warm but, fortunately, the early morning sunshine was very pleasant and the bin bag wasn’t needed anyhow. More disturbing was the fact that I had forgotten to charge the battery of my Garmin race watch. Whilst to some this may seem a pretty insignificant issue, to me it was a fundamental mistake that was really irking me. I relied, rather too heavily according to my brother Luke – a sub 3 hour marathon man, on the Garmin to pace myself but too late this time, I would just have to manage without it.

9.45 was rapidly approaching and tension was building in pen2. Just one minute to go, everyone wishing everyone else good luck, shouts of “see you at the finish” rang in my ears – I hope so I thought. No time now for a last stretch…then the siren sounded…we were off. Just a shuffle at first then a gap opened in front of me and I could begin to jog. I crossed the start line just 40 seconds after the siren and was able to pick up pace straightaway. “Better than last year” I thought to myself. 2008 was a much more difficult start but the experience had taught me a thing or two about positioning.

I settled into the run and in no time it seemed we were passing the 1 mile marker and although some of the seasoned and better athletes were passing me and disappearing down the road no weird animals, carrots, Oxo cubes or any other variety of fruit or vegetable had challenged me for position….promising!! I had now found my rhythm and felt comfortable; although I hadn’t the comfort of the Garmin, I had got an old timing watch and knew that I was running pretty much at the pace I wanted. I remember the hundreds of spectators lining the pavements. I made sure that my Douglas Bader vest had a very big SOPH in bold white letters across the chest – sorry Douglas but you were relegated to rear view only – and it was great to her the “Go Soph go” shouts from the crowd.

I felt comfortable as we approached Cutty Sark. I love the loop round the Cutty Sark loop although I guess that it would have been a whole lot more impressive before the disastrous fire a few years back. I knew that my family would be around here somewhere and although I was trying to concentrate on my running I was very keen to spot them in the crowd – a difficult task to pick them out amongst the thousands of faces as you whizz past. Then the unmistakable bellow “Go on Sophie – you’re doing great” – no mistake it was surely Dad. I looked quickly to my right and there he was with Mum , sisters Maddie and Tessa, brother in law Buff, a marathon man himself but not this year, and Uncle Rich, all hopping up and down and yelling my name; it was a great feeling. I waved my recognition back as Dads enormous bellow had got that whole section of crowd cheering for me…great feeling – thanks Dad.

On through the streets of the south Thames towards my next favourite section – Tower Bridge. As we crossed the river I had time to take in the sight of the awesome numbers of spectators all cheering for someone or trying to spot them amongst the never ending train of runners; it was an amazing site and staggering that so many cheered you on by name if they spotted it on your vest (made a mental note to get a bigger SOPH next time). I was feeling good, felt that I was running within myself and that, somewhat surprisingly, I could be on for a better than expected time. I was taking on water at the planned rate as well as my gel energy drinks; I am never quite sure what’s in them but they certainly give you a lift!!

Once you leave Tower Bridge the route meanders back down the river towards Docklands and cheering spectators apart, is not a very inspiring part of the run. I always have it in the back of my mind that at this point I am heading in the wrong direction (ie away from the finish line), which is exactly where the run takes you. At last however, somewhere around the 16-17 mile point, there is a sharp left hander into East Ferry Road and you know that you are beginning to head back towards the finish, albeit still some 9 miles or so away. This psychological uplift was amplified by the fact that I knew my family support group would be around here somewhere. Right on queue I heard a familiar voice not too far down the road shouting “here she comes!” It was mum and I could clearly pick them all out chanting my name and cheering me on. All that is except dad who, as always, was struggling with the camera…he has some cracking pictures of a host of the unknown runners who were near me but has yet to get a good one of me!!

I was still feeling strong. My time was good and I felt as though I was running well. I still had 3 hrs 15 mins in my mind. But as I passed the 18 mile marker I suddenly spotted it there in front of me; the proverbial WALL!! The remaining 8 miles were hell. I could easily have given up; I just didn’t want to go on. But I have never been a quitter and I knew that if I stopped not only would I be letting my sponsors down but my family would never let me forget it; moreover I would never forgive myself. I dug deep and although I was aware that my pace was slowing and my strength was rapidly vanishing I plodded, literally plodded, on.

I was suddenly aware that I had covered a greater distance than I thought and almost subconsciously emerged from the shade of the Embankment tunnel to the tumultuous sound and sight of the thousands of cheering spectators lining the road along The Embankment. I couldn’t be seen as a “woosie”. I suddenly got second wind, took on water at a nearby water station and kicked on. The remaining couple of miles was almost a blur; right turn at the end of The Embankment through Parliament Square into Birdcage Walk. The half mile marker was just down the road when I heard Dads familiar yell “Go on Soph- we’re proud of you”. Just what I needed. I passed Buckingham Palace with the cheers of the crowds ringing in my ears; right onto the Mall and there, just a few hundred yards away, was the sight every marathon runner must long for ….the finish.

As I crossed the line I stopped my inferior watch; not the 3:15 for which I had hoped but somewhere under last years time. I drew in as much air as I could; joined in the ritual of patting every back around and gasping “well done”. I joined the slow moving snake of people to the kit collection point, picked up my bag and finishers medal and meandered into Horseguards Parade where after just a minute I spotted my family arms open and still cheering. It was, as always, a moving moment but one that was soon surpassed by the relief of completing just over 26 miles and the onset of aches and pains.

The family fired a barrage of questions expecting instant answers when all I could think of was “just leave me alone for a mo”.

And so the 2009 London Marathon was over; I did achieve one of my targets 3:20:14 beat my 2008 time by 7 minutes but I have yet to hit my £500 fund raising target but THERE IS STILL TIME FOLKS!! With your help I will get there – just go to www.justgiving.com/sophiedelderfield1 It Couldn’t be easier.

I am indebted to all of you who have supported me so well and helped The Foundation with your sponsorship. Now its a few days off then back into training for the Low Alpine Mountain Marathon which takes place in the Scottish Highlands over two days at the beginning of June and in which I will be competing with my brother Luke as it is a two man team event. I am sure that the scenery will be spectacular, the weather wet and the challenge enormous so wish us luck.

But you know, for me the atmosphere and experience of the London Marathon will take some beating and I plan to be back in 2010, Sir Douglas’s Centenary year!!