Race Date: Sunday 23rd April 2023
Race Report by Hannah Holliday
On a grey, drizzly morning in April, 49,000 runners assembled for the annual London Marathon. Writing a report for a race as huge and iconic as this feels like a daunting prospect, as there is so much that probably can’t be adequately conveyed through words alone, but I’ll do my best…
Arriving in London on the Saturday morning, I made my way over to Excel to collect my race number. Fully expecting there to be a huge queue, I was very happy to find that this wasn’t the case. Yes it was busy but there were no queues and once I had the precious race number in my hand I started to relax a bit. There was a wall where you could leave and read messages of support, and I was happy to find a couple of ‘Go Striders!’ comments (I had been tipped off, it wasn’t as miraculous a discovery as it might sound!) All that was left to tick off was some more carb-loading, a final kit check and an early night.
Race morning arrived and I’d slept surprisingly well, so after a good breakfast I got on the train and began my journey to the start line. Before the race, runners are sent very specific instructions on exactly when and where to assemble. There are multiple start points and multiple waves so navigating London transport to be in the right place at the right time feels like the first big challenge of the day. My start was the Green zone and I arrived on time to join the world’s longest toilet queue, before dropping my bag off at my allocated lorry and finding my start pen. It was raining quite hard by this point and so most people were well-wrapped in ponchos and foil blankets, nervously chatting with those around them. My pen also seemed to be the Guiness World Record fancy dress pen, so I was joined by 2 pints of London Pride, a big packet of Haribo and 3 men tied together inside a crown. The big screen was showing live footage of the elite start line, which only added to the buzz and excitement as we realised how we close we were to finally getting going.
At exactly 10:08am the ponchos were discarded and we were led to the start line. There was a short count-down and then suddenly, after all those weeks of training and preparation, we were off! I had imagined that the start would be extremely busy but it turns out I was fortunate to be in one of the smaller start zones and so we all had plenty of space and could get going straight away.
The first couple of miles were fairly quiet, and a good opportunity to settle into a sensible(ish) pace. I knew I had to be very careful not to go out too fast, and I can see how easy it is to fall into that trap in London, particularly once all the start zones merge at mile 3 and the crowds of spectators really start to build up. The noise and excitement really gets under your skin, and all that energy stored in your legs from the taper feels like it is bursting to get out. But as anyone who has run a marathon will know, it is a brutally unforgiving distance and early enthusiasm is not usually rewarded.
So I tried my hardest to be patient, sensible and, most of all, to relax and enjoy the occasion. As we made our way through Greenwich to the Cutty Sark I couldn’t believe the sheer number of supporters out in the rain cheering everyone on. I found myself grinning from ear to ear. Shortly afterwards I saw my family too. With all the crowds I was worried I might miss them so that ticked another box and extended my grin even further. This was really it – the London Marathon!
The route then takes you on through Surrey Quays towards Bermondsey (where there was a HUGE Striders flag – thank you Jane!) before turning right onto Tower Bridge and arguably one of the most exciting and memorable parts of the entire course. The atmosphere coming over the bridge was incredible and at this point in the race I think most people feel pretty good. You’re nearly half-way, energy levels are still high and your legs still feel good. Looking around, most people were smiling and waving to the crowds, soaking up the moment.
After Tower Bridge, you turn right again and there is a short section where you see the faster runners coming past you on the opposite side of the road. We were lucky enough to see Sir Mo at this point, which drew a huge cheer from all the runners and gave everyone another boost before we entered Canary Wharf.
Oh Canary Wharf…. A lot can change in those few miles. Some sail through and emerge looking as fresh as they did when they entered, but for many it feels that you enter that loop as one person and are spat out as another. The energy and euphoria of mile 13 slowly dissipates and is replaced by fatigue, burning quads and a realisation that even though you are ‘nearly there’…you are not actually nearly there. For me, the 20-mile marker always seems to be where battle officially commences in a marathon, and where you need to call on all your training (physical and mental) to get you through those last few miles.
The route continues back past the flow of runners coming in the opposite direction (bonus points for spotting fellow Striders here, which I did!) and then you’re onto Embankment and the last 3 miles of the race. This was where it got particularly tough for me and even my ‘just a Parkrun to go’ mantra was falling short. I’d fuelled well but felt drained, and looking around I could see that I wasn’t the only one. The crowds were louder than ever but heads were down and shoulders were slumped. A surprisingly large number of people were walking, possibly paying the price for early pacing errors. I felt like I had slowed down a lot but my split times suggest that things weren’t actually as bad as they felt. Either way, it was just a question of grinding out those last 3 miles. By this point I knew that a PB was just about within reach if I kept going and that was all the motivation I needed to continue.
Turning right at Big Ben just after mile 25 was a huge boost and I could feel spirits collectively lifting. However, Buckingham Palace still seemed to take FOREVER to appear and that final stretch down Birdcage Walk felt like an eternity. ‘600m to go’ came and went and still we weren’t there! My Garmin was already well over 26.2 miles by this point but fortunately I’d been warned that this would happen so I hadn’t paid much attention to it in the later miles. Then finally Buckingham Palace was there, the final corner was turned and the finish line was in sight. I checked my watch and calculated that if I wanted to have a ‘7’ in my finish time, I would need to put in a sprint finish. It didn’t seem possible but somehow I found one and threw myself over the line. There was none of the ‘hands in the air’ glory that I’d imagined (and the official photos are an extremely unflattering, yet sadly accurate representation of just how hard that final 200m felt!) but none of that mattered. It was done, and the PB I really didn’t think I’d manage in London was secure.
Usually I’d finish a race report at this point, but I think the post-race logistics are worth a mention too. You receive your medal and your bag (which contained water, Lucozade and a flapjack – I’d taken the ‘trees for tees’ option and chosen not to receive the winners t-shirt), and then you have to go off and find the correctly numbered lorry to collect your belongings. This may sound easy, but the overwhelming exhaustion ensures that even the simplest of tasks feel like the Krypton Factor. Finding the correct lorry, remembering how to queue, correctly reading out your race number and then identifying belongings you didn’t even remember bringing was a lot to ask, and patience was wearing thin with both runners and volunteers. Once that is done, you then have to walk all the way to Horse Guards Parade and stand by the correct meeting point to find friends and family, all with legs that no longer belong to you and a kit bag you think is probably yours but are too tired to really check. Not seeing the letter ‘H’ anywhere when I arrived was the final straw and a tearful call to my family followed… “they’ve forgotten the H – how will I find you?”. Needless to say, they were standing by the H…which was of course directly in front of me.
All in all, the London Marathon lived up to expectations. It was an incredible experience that I feel very lucky to have been a part of. Well done to everyone who took part and a massive thank you to everyone who made the trip to London to support – the flags and cheers of ‘Go Striders!’ really made it feel extra special.
37 runners lined up for the Elite race. Winner of the men’s race was Kelvin Kiptum of Kenya in a time of 02:01:25. Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands won the women’s race in a time of 02:18:33.
48694 runners lined up for the mass start. First man to cross the line was Japanese runner Yuki Kawauchi in a time of 02:13:18. Diana Bogantes Gonzalez of Costa Rica was the first woman to finish in a time of 02:33:40. First non-binary runner was Sam Murphy of Ireland in a time of 02:55:37. Twenty-six Striders took part in the race.
Full results can be found on the TCS London Marathon website.