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Jess' London Marathon 2018 Diary: Entry #4

London Marathon

April 22, 2018 will be a day that I never forget!

Months and months of prep, all going towards one day. Fretting over what nutrition would be best for me. Did I like my shoes or did I need another pair? What kit should I wear? Look good, feel good, run good - right? How should I adjust my training plan for a knee injury?

Countless hours of running: short runs, long runs, speed sessions. 327 miles to be exact! The hardest of all: those Sunday mornings! Those cold, wet, windy, SNOWY Sunday mornings. Thank goodness for joining a running group!

So much effort all for one day. What ended up being a 5 hour and 20 minute race. It was fantastic.

Within the first few miles, I knew that my goal time was out the window. Not only was the heat relentless, but trying to dodge people added on an extra ½ mile in the end. Later I learnt that only adding ½ a mile was quite fortunate, while others had added on up to 1 mile extra.

The first few miles flew by. While I wasn’t able to get down to my race pace because of all the people, I found a comfortable pace and passed fellow runners when I could without wasting too much effort. Before I knew it, I was rounding Cutty Sark - the first landmark where I would see my family! There they were, with Franny the Flamingo. A pink flamingo balloon we had purchased the day before so that I would easily pick them out in the crowd. I received a huge cheer, gave a wave and carried on - only to find a couple more unexpected friends around the corner. What a big boost!

As I made my way out of Greenwich and into Deptford, I couldn’t believe the crowds. They were absolutely phenomenal! As I plodded along to the next major landmark, I passed the Grenfell Firefighters, the racer on stilts, a guy in a tractor and a couple other fancy dress runners; absolutely amazing for them to run in that heat!

Before I knew it, I rounded the corner and there was Tower Bridge, in all its awe. I slowed down a bit and made myself take it all in and let me tell you, it was over too quickly!

I must have had 20 people call out my name and cheer me on, none of them I knew. The crowds were easily 10 people deep - I was in a tunnel of noise.

Coming off Tower Bridge, I was a bit disappointed as I thought: ‘Aww, that’s one of the best parts and it’s over,’ but boy was I wrong!

The stretch along the highway was awesome! A lot of people had told me that when you hit mile 13 and start to see runners coming back towards you on the other side, it would be a bit disappointing, knowing you still had that far to go. But I didn’t find it disappointing at all! Those runners were amazing! They were 20 miles into their marathon and their running technique was still better than mine! I found them inspiring!

They made me want to speed up! So I did! Not much, but a little bit. Along came another boost when I saw one of my clients and a couple of my housemates. They all looked so happy and I was so pleased they had spotted me! Another big boost!

Ed Scott and Jess Armstrong

On I went and I ran into the only familiar runner I would see all day! My client, Ed Scott! He was doing so amazing! I was thrilled to run into someone I knew! We took a selfie together and then off I went, still trudging along at my comfortable pace.

I knew my next spectators were at mile 15. At this point I was still feeling pretty good. I had my routine of a gel every 3 miles, supplemented with Jelly Babies if I needed some extra energy. Taking water when I needed it and then sipping and pouring some over my head to cool myself down. Sip, pour and repeat.

Mile 15 came around and again, there was Franny the Flamingo, my Mum (who almost missed me trying to fix something in her bag) and Kody, along with a couple of our friends. Another well needed boost!

The next bit of the marathon is somewhat of a blur. The miles all blend together. I spotted or was spotted by a few clients, the Haven House staff, MS-UK (my charity) and some runners from my running club. All were GREATLY needed by this point. The heat was beating down and some of my fellow runners were dropping like flies. I knew I just needed to think about carrying on to mile 20 where I would see my family again and then I would let myself have a short rest and talk to them. Seeing some unexpected faces and running through another wall of noise in Canary Wharf was the lift I needed. Well, until I hit the hot industrial streets of Poplar, or wherever I was!

Finally I made it to mile 20 and once again I saw Franny the Flamingo with Kody, Mom and my housemates – all with smiling faces and cheers to greet me. They asked me how it was going; my answer was, “Everything hurts!” Haha! At that moment, Kody gave me an ice pop that they had been saving for me. It was ¾ melted, but it was extraordinary! It was so cold and the taste was nothing like my gels or the water I’d been taking on for the last 20 miles. It was absolutely perfect! Once again they had given me the boost I needed and off I went again. Only six miles left to go.

My next goal was the 22.5 mile mark, where I knew one of my clients was standing. Off I went, now doing a walk/jog combo for the first time that day. At times it was actually easier to keep running as slowing down to walk hurt more!

Dave and Jess

The crowd was amazing. Constantly cheering, calling my name and telling me I could do it, that I would do it! I spotted Dave Griffiths at mile 22.5, right under the speed camera where he said he’d be. I asked Dave how he had completed 10 marathons last year and his answer was, “The same way you will finish one, by putting one foot in front of the other.” Those were the words I needed to hear. I was exhausted and my feet hurt, but I was calm and I knew what needed to be done. I gave Dave a sweaty hug and off I went to see Sophie at mile 25.

One foot in front of the other. Sip, pour, repeat.

Sophie Vowden and Jess Armstrong

The mile 25 marker went by and I plodded along knowing where Sophie was standing as I stood there last year cheering everyone on. I saw the SV flag and there was Sophie. We chatted for a minute or so, I casually mentioned that my feet were really sore and that they might need some treatment - haha! We got a photo and then I had one mile left!

That’s it, I would not stop running until I crossed that finish line! I rounded the corner at Big Ben, saw Westminster Abbey from afar and then there was the ‘800 metres to go’ sign! This was it, the final stretch, only it felt so long! I thought I had made it to the 400m sign, but was surprised to find I had only reached the 600m marker! I couldn’t do anything but laugh at myself thinking why does this feel like its taking FOREVER! One foot in front of the other.

Finally I reached Buckingham Palace, full of crowds. I rounded that last corner and the finish line was in sight. Although running down the Mall got quieter and quieter. The crowds disappeared and were replaced by ¾ empty stands with some spectators clapping like they’d just seen a mediocre play. I mean come on - I've just run a marathon!!!

I changed my focus to the photographers - time to get a great photo with Buckingham Palace in the background. Smile at that one, wave my arms at that one, throw a thumbs up to another one. You might be thinking ‘Wow! She did all that just before the finish line?' Yes I did. How you may ask? I was running THAT SLOW! Haha...

Jess at end of London Marathon

Then it happened. I crossed the finish line. I threw my arms into the air. I did it! I finished my first ever marathon. The London Marathon! I got my medal, got a few pictures taken. Then BAM! My legs seized and the walk to the lorry where my bag was felt longer than the marathon. What a day!

I cannot thank everyone who has helped me through this journey enough. Thank you to my running club, the Orion Harriers, and the Sunday morning group - you know who you are! Thank you to Sophie for treating my poor body. Thank you to EVERYONE who made a donation to my fundraising, every penny means so much! Thank you to my other half Kody for supporting me through my entire training period and attending Sunday runs with me.

Lastly I need to thank my clients. I truly have the best clients in the world. When a client waits for you and checks your temperature to ensure you’re not overheating or need extra water you know you have the best clients in the world. When you’re at 17 miles and melting in the heat and then all of a sudden you get the BIGGEST cheer from out of nowhere from a client it means so, so much; also not to mention you notice their “injured” shoulder you’ve been treating get full range of motion as it shoots into their air with the cheer!

Hearing “JESS PHYSIO” being shouted never gets old. Thank you all for always being interested in my journey, for letting me vent about a bad run, or rave about a good one.

Thank you for sharing your advice. A huge thank you for coming out to support me on the day. It means so much to me and words truly can’t express how much I appreciate all of your support!

From hating running one year ago, I now find myself as a marathon runner who is actually thinking about registering for ANOTHER marathon! But how will I ever beat the London Marathon?!

Jess with her mum and pink flamingo

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