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Doug & Lisa's London Marathon

Darren McSweeney

May 5, 2023

Sunday 23rd April was my third London (fourth if you include the 2020 virtual) and it seemed I’d once again managed to book the perfect accommodation purely by chance. Our first time in a hotel rather than an Airbnb, the almost new Premier Inn at Westferry couldn’t be any nearer to public transport. Lisa and I jumped off the DLR, down in the the lift and the door opened in front of the hotel entrance. Much needed after the 300 mile train trip down to the big city.


Check-in was manic, but we had arrived at bang on 3pm on the Friday, just as check in opened for what seemed like all 400 bedrooms checking in at the same time for the marathon weekend!


Checked in and a chance for Lisa to grab a rest whilst I headed straight back out onto the DLR to reach Excel and collect my race pack. Entering Excel someone shouted my name and with them using Darren and not Doug I kinda knew it was someone from home – never fails to amaze me that you can travel that far from a smallish northern town and still bump into someone who lives a few streets away from you.


Moving into the Excel desks I spot the “please have QR code and photo ID ready” signs.

Shit. I’ve got the QR code on my phone. But that is all I have with me. Choose the friendliest looking desk attendant. Explain you’ve come 300 miles. Cross fingers. Hope. “Have you not got something on your phone sir?” – at which point I remembered emailing my driving license as ID for something and hey presto, there it was, accepted, bib issued, job done. Phew!


The plan was to spend £0 – so it was a quick trip to runderwear to say hello to the gang, get my shirt printed and then escape. Lindz (@thislindzruns) knew I was there and knew which stall I’d be lurking at so she came and found me! Lovely to catch up and then I headed back before temptation to visit all of the traders took hold!


Friday night Nando’s in Canary Wharf and then a few scoops back in the hotel before a dress rehearsal Saturday for Lisa getting to the finish unaided.


We’d been in touch with TCS London Marathon quite extensively to make arrangements for Lisa, she’d previously been a guest in the charity grandstand but we didn’t have that luxury this year, however they’d assured us that with the additional 4000 seater grandstand built for Charlie’s upcoming new hat weekend there would be plenty of room for her.


A DLR and two tubes to St James Park and Lisa was confident she could make that on her own, the walk from the tube to the grandstand would be the challenge and the Saturday dry run uncovered some challenges in that a good percentage of the stewards knew nothing about the arrangements, the spectator routes, the marathon, or even London in general! Honestly it was like speaking to a brick wall with some of them, I do realise a lot of these are total volunteers, but it did seem the most public-facing ones had missed a memo or two.


Our London marathon tradition of afternoon pizza and a beer at L’ulivo in Charing Cross was so much of a tradition that the waitress seated us at the very same table we sat at in 2021. Freaky.


Poor judgment then led us to Primark on Oxford Street. I’m not sure why. But we spent about a week in there on Saturday afternoon. Journeyed back to the hotel sat on the tune next to a lovely Extinction Rebellion lady who had a full size pretend crow in her hair. I’m 300 miles from home in a strange town and Jack the Crow is sat next to me. Shit doesn’t get any more real than this.


Early night for us both and I was up stupidly early for the big day, as expected. Once race-ready and all of the pre-race “rituals” were complete, I headed downstairs and grabbed some of the free fruit and water bottles the Premier Inn had kindly supplied for runners.


I was in Blue Start which recommended Blackheath but Greenwhich was easier by DLR so that was my chosen route. As I went to climb the stairs to the platform I was met by a train full  of people coming down, all muttering about the train now being dead and this was as close as you were getting to the start. Shit. That’s three miles and across a river, that’s not close at all. At this point a guy offered me a place in an Uber with three others, none of who knew each other. Happily accepted though, not even worried the guy ordering the Uber wasn’t coming with us, he could have sent us anywhere!


We headed off through a tunnel, whizzing down a dual carriageway thing until we came to our exit closed off by a police car. The next exit was the same. At this point the Uber driver turned around to those in the back asking what he should do now. You’re the Uber driver pal, we don’t even know where we are!  He suggests dropping us right where we were. Think dual carriageway that looks suspiciously like a motorway to me and no pavements or obvious way off. We asked him to get as near to a slip road as he could and we then, all four of us, proceeded to jog along the hard shoulder back down an entry slip road that put us about half a mile from the start. A marathon to remember before I’d even started!


The threatened rain arrived in the start area, I mooched around looking for any familiar Blue Wave faces but not finding any, I passed the ridiculously long wait in a perpetual queue, pee, queue, pee cycle.


Eventually the pen opened and my favourite paint stained DIY-wear hoodie was cast aside for a new life with someone else and the race was joined. Just as we got the klaxon I spotted a crisp new £20 on the floor, but the pack had just enough forward momentum to make bending down for it not an option, I heard several people behind me mention it, but it would be a much braver person that risked a possible trampling to pick it up! It’s probably still there now, or maybe the back of pack runners get all these goodies!


Too fast in the first few km as usual, but settled it a (little) bit and chose to get in front of the 3:45 pacer and try and stay there. About five miles in and someone tapped me on the shoulder, “Hiya Darren” – unreal, someone from my own running club! There were only five of us in total, what’s the odds of bumping into one another? The rain continued and I just went head down, march on and Tower Bridge was there before I knew it. Louder than ever. Mind blowing even after three Londons. And then for Polly and Sammy to scream “Dooouuuuug” at me half way across the most iconic part of the race, amazing. Somehow missed seeing, or being seen by, anyone else from the Fartlek Family, but it was only to get worse for me later on the stealth front…


Mile 21 and the head battle was on, running past my hotel at Westferry, could I just sack it off and go to bed? But then it was Run Dem Crew time and having been blown away in 2019 by the atmosphere, it’s the high point of the route for me. I reached out to RDC founder Charlie Dark that first year to thank him, became a fan and supporter of what he stands for and what he’s achieved. For him to shout “Darren” and us exchange a hands high hand shake meant so much to me and was the ultimate power up at the perfect moment. 2023 marathon made.

Head down, job in hand focus on, I knew the PB of 3:44 set last year at Manchester was slipping out of reach but sub 4 was definitely still on. Remembering where this marathon block started for me, being discharged from my Christmas hospital stay with a new asthma diagnosis, I was more than happy to take a finish line over any finish time. 


The only thing to take the edge off the weekend was still to come, Lisa had sent me a voice message to tell me exactly where she was in the public grandstand. Marathon phones having the same performance levels as when trying to send a text on New Years Eve, all I received was a line of text that said <<<Voice message>>> with no way of playing it.

Was she somewhere else, had something gone wrong, had three hours sat in the rain taken its toll and she’d sacked it off?  I didn’t know. So I turned that corner looking hard right, shouting her name, trying to see one face in four thousand after running 26 miles. She was there, I just couldn’t  see her and through a combination of people standing part blocking her view and me being somewhat conspicuous in black, black and black (except the bright shoes), she got the notification from the app to tell her I’d crossed the finish line. A phone call and tears from both of us before far too long to collect my bag and then I ran, yes ran through St James’s Park for the biggest hug and cuddle ever.

The best laid plans eh? Ah well there’s always next time….


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