The London Marathon – the first and definitely not the last

We dreamed about it for years and trained for it for months. We trusted the training, the nutrition and  we enjoyed the last week before the marathon with good food and good fun. The family was here for a nice vacation to take our minds off the great challenge to come. We will probably post more about the marathon – how we trained for it, how we recovered, things to do or not to do. But let’s start with the marathon story.

Official finisher photo
Finish times:
Andreea: 5h 25m 40s
Alin: 3h 49m

We dreamed about it for years and trained for it for months. We trusted the training, the nutrition and  we enjoyed the last week before the marathon with good food and good fun. The family was here for a nice vacation to take our minds off the great challenge to come. We will probably post more about the marathon – how we trained for it, how we recovered, things to do or not to do. But let’s start with the marathon story.

Brighton – With Andreea’s Mom, Brother and Sister in Law. And the Beagles, of course! Andreea’s brother unfortunately left on Saturday morning

Wednesday, before the marathon

We went to the Marathon Expo and we got there even before it opened. Our advantage was that we were on holiday, so we were able to go in the middle of the week, without rushing anywhere. We picked up our numbers, took a few pictures and LEFT – wow, winners, right? No queue, no fuss. We had a full day, went to the theatre to see The Lion King, I picked up my mom from the airport and we were all home and happy. And then someone asks: can I see your numbers? Yes, of course. And we opened the envelope which said “you must pick up a time chip at registration”. Whaaaaaat? So we didn’t get everything we needed from the expo and that place is in Far, Far Away land. Damn it.

Marathon Expo, after the thought we were done. We weren’t.

Thursday, before the marathon

And we’re back to the Marathon Expo. Picked up the chip. Lady reassures us that we have everything now. Awesome. Learning: if you’re doing the marathon next year, walk through the entire expo to get everything you need.

Friday, before the marathon

On the whole internet, we couldn’t find Superman and Wonder Woman dry-fit t-shirts. So we made them ourselves. Bought the t-shirts, ordered the signs a few weeks before, ironed them on. Awesome. We started preparing everything in order to have a calm Sunday morning.

Ready to save the world!

Saturday, the day before the marathon

We started the day with a 15 min run to warm up our joints. Then we made a small inventory of everything we need to carry with us during the race and got to the conclusion that we need another waist bag and a pair of gloves. So shopping time!

Sunday, race day

Andreea’s version

We have everything, we’re ready, off we go.

We live far from Greenwich, so it took us a couple of hours to get there. Together with the toilet queue time, we made it at the start line just a few minutes before 10am. We hugged and separated to go to the proper start pens.

My group finally crossed the start line at 10:28 (had to wait for another 30,000 people to cross) and I started running. It was finally happening! I was feeling great, I was smiling, waving at all the cameras. Everyone was doing the same. And there were so many spectators! Overwhelming. Even the weather was good. Very promising.

I saw the 5h pace team in front of me so I decided to stick with them. Finishing in 5h was my goal anyway. So I ran side by side with them for a good 10 miles. I didn’t stop for anything, I couldn’t risk losing them.

I was a bit high I guess – from the crowds, the adrenaline, the funny signs people were holding – so it felt more like flying than running. I drank Lucozade at every station even though I never had Lucozade before (I know, I was crazy enough to try new things during the race!!!), I picked up caramels and Haribos from EVERYONE that was offering them and I hi5-ed everyone.

I was already starting to feel the sugar crash when suddenly I turned right onto Tower Bridge. I became so emotional that it was very hard to stop crying. I did it eventually, but then I started feeling funny. When I realized I’m very dizzy, I slowed down, calmed my nerves and continued with a slower pace. That meant I lost the 5h pacers team and I knew I can’t make it in 5 hours anymore. But Tower Bridge also meant that I made it half way.

It was all fun and games for maybe another 5 miles. And then everything started hurting – my hips, my knees, my toes and suddenly I felt very tired – I could have gone to bed immediately. But I had to go on. There was absolutely no moment at all when I thought about quitting. I just kept going. Close to mile 20, I started combining walking and running, but walking hurt even more! I stopped smiling to the cameras, I couldn’t eat or drink anything anymore and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. But the only option was to keep going.

A picture is worth a 1000 words, right? Oh, the pain.

And there they were, at mile 23, my BEAGLES! Our friend Jo, who was taking care of them, tracked us online the whole time and came there to surprise us. They missed Alin, but managed to see me passing by. I didn’t know what to do when I saw them, so I waved and passed by. My brain was not functioning anymore. So Jo, thankfully, outran me, stopped me and I got a few hugs and face licks from my fur babies. That was the thing that gave me the energy to keep going. After I stopped crying, of course.

Salty kisses and big hugs from my Beagles

After mile 23, you start passing by all London landmarks – Tower of London, London Eye, Big Ben – and the crowds are insane. I stopped my music because I couldn’t hear anything anyway. Once you get close to Buckingham, you see the signs – 1km left, 800m left, 600m left, 400m left. IT’S TORTURE. And then finally, you see it. THE FINISH LINE. Here come the tears again. But this time it took me a while to stop.

Just before crossing the Finish Line. Buckingham Palace in the background.

I crossed the line, got the medal and got my phone out. SO MANY MESSAGES! Friends who tracked us online the whole time, my brother who watched us even though the marathon started at 2am his time (he actually sent me a congrats message the moment I crossed the finish line!). You try stopping the tears! I met Alin, we took a finisher photo, changed and went home.

You train and you train, but nothing prepares you for the excruciating pain you feel once you stop. Going up and down the stairs is still a bit painful 3 days later. My knees still hate me. 5h and a half is a long time to run!

Will I do another marathon? Now that the initial shock is over, yes, I will do another marathon because I want to get better at it.

Alin’s version

Toilet queue screwed our timing and it dominoed over the start position and overall time. I didn’t realize what almost 40k people look like, so I thought that it’s not such a big deal getting into the queue beside the 5h15 pacer. I tried to find my way walking through the crowd, but at the same time I tried not to panic or make a big deal out of it. I thought I’d just have to run a bit faster for the first 5-10k or so and then I’ll get to my own pace group. Far from it.

While the queue was advancing towards the start line, I looked around and stared at folks around me – how they looked, how they were dressed, what wearables they had, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary, but one thing: a paper bracelet with the pace and the time at each mile – I’ll remember this one, good to know.

Given how huge the event is, I was surprised by how calm I was. Not cheerful, but just calm. I started the GPS at 9:55, so it started draining the battery for more than 20 minutes before the actual start. Another thing to remember – never start your GPS until you see the start line.

And then the crowd started running, so was I. But they ran way too slow, after half a km I realized they were running at a ~6:30 pace, which was way slower than my aim. So I started overpassing people. Lots of jumping and going from side to side, running on the pavement, etc. I am a quite careful person so I don’t think I annoyed anyone behind me. I didn’t have my headset on, to be able to concentrate on the race. But there were some segments where especially charity people were running at the same speed, shoulder to shoulder, which made it very hard to overpass.

The one thing that strikes a beginner running the London Marathon is the cheering crowds. Lots of children, people of all walks of life really, all wishing you luck and hi5-ing you. I responded to as many I could, there were segments where I was laughing – adrenaline blended with smiles :). I resisted the temptation to eat sweets, I only ate a chocolate bar at some point, but the thing I didn’t resist was Lucozade :). In the second half when blood sugar started dropping more often, I was becoming almost ecstatic when noticing the signs with “Lucozade sports drinks ahead”.

Passing by Cutty Sark.

So, to describe my first 10k, I ran either with a ~4:30 or with ~6:30 pace/km. Which screwed my energy levels, but I considered myself overprepared so I could spare some. I think I passed by the 4h45 group when another problem started to be noisy in my head – just one toilet visit before the race was not enough, so another one was needed. So after around 12km I had to queue for a toilet and lost 4 minutes. I had to run for another 3-4km to catch the 4h45 pacer yet again.

I started to try to optimize the energy spent passing over people, do fewer jumps, not trying to look ahead for pace flags. By the time I got to the Tower Bridge I realized I didn’t see any landmark and never looked sideways. I also realized I had another half marathon to go so I started to slow and calm down. Interestingly enough my average pace only dropped about 10 seconds but it seemed so much comfortable. I could see the 4h15 flag somewhere 100m in front, but I didn’t actually make any effort to overpass it, it just happened at some point. Like it did with the 4h pacer.

Tower Bridge, the half way point.

So the last 10-15km I concentrated on the landmarks, on smiling to the cameras, on paying respect (in my head) to a lady that was somewhere in her 70-80-90s but was running at the same pace as me. I couldn’t catch the 3h30 pacer, but frankly it didn’t matter. I realized I wanted to be able to remember it as an enjoyable experience rather than an awful one trying to get to the finish line 10 minutes earlier.

Big Ben in the background. What a course!

During the training, after longer runs I was heading directly at home. After the marathon I had to top up my clothes layers quickly as my temperature dropped quite suddenly – a group of 3 paramedics pinpointed me with their looks for some good seconds and asked me if I was all right. I was ok, but I clearly didn’t show it. So I got rid of all wet layers and my temperature got back up in matter of minutes. And then, while waiting for Andreea, I kind of fought the temptation to sit. I won, don’t worry :).

I also expected a sort of food court just after the finish line, I dreamed about drinking some more Lucozade, but I only finished the one from the goody bag. No food either, just from the goody bag and the bar I got left. The village was probably back in Greenwich park, but I couldn’t exit that area alone, I had to wait for Andreea. I got to choose my size S finisher shirt, but Andreea was too late, there were only XLs left – american XL, so BIG! For an event of this size, they could just ask the size and send the shirt on the post, like they did with the ballot refusal packs.

We still have a big event coming up this autumn, the Great North Run. But other than that, my next marathons will be low profile ones. And probably will carefully choose the date of the marathon because frankly, I really hate cold nowadays. We trained, we ran our first half and our first full marathons, all in low single figure temperatures. It’s supposed to be hard, but I’m craving for a bit more than 15 degrees if you know what I mean.

A huge THANK YOU to EVERYONE who messaged us, gave us any type of encouragement or supported us in any way during all this time. Thank you if you watched us online or on TV. Thanks to everyone in the crowds that cheered or gave us sweets. Thanks to all the volunteers of the London Marathon. Thanks to our friends, families and online followers. YOU ARE ALL AWESOME!



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