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London Marathon 2023 - Mairi Littleson

On 23rd April 2023 the 43rd edition of the London Marathon returned to it’s traditional April slot, having moved to October during the Covid-19 pandemic. A record breaking 49,272 people took part on the course in London, with 6,525 “virtual” runners also covering 26.2 miles elsewhere. Among the 49,272 were 12 DRRs, taking part in what would turn out to be a brilliant weekend for the club.

I travelled to London on the Friday morning, getting the Loganair flight out of Dundee airport

straight into London City. The flight itself was half full of fellow DRRs and their families, no need to ask why we were all heading to London. After the short flight it was a 20 minute walk to the London Marathon Show at the ExCel (also easily accessed by public transport), where we were to complete our registration for the race and collect our race packs. The Event Guide, which had been made available a few days previously, had warned that it might be very busy on the Friday and Saturday and to expect queueing, but it turned out to be a very quick and efficient process. There’s plenty to see at the Marathon Show, including talks from elite athletes and coaches, to stalls from various brands.

After trying to walk as little as possible on the Saturday, it was suddenly race day. I made the short walk to the nearest train station to my hotel (Holiday Inn Express Greenwich – bit expensive but good location!) and caught the train to Blackheath. Public transport is free for marathon runners on race day, but there are some exceptions so double check once you’ve made travel plans.

Once off the train I joined the raft of runners walking towards the start lines. There are four different start lines at London: Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow, which all converge further along the route to avoid overcrowding at the start. I followed the arrows pointing towards the championship assembly area (Qualifying times: 2:40 full or 1:12:30 half for men, 3:14 full or 1:28 half for women for the 2023 event) and after showing my bib number I was in. The assembly area was quite small, but had plenty of portaloos which I’d been told was the main benefit of the championship start.

I’d arrived in plenty of time so was glad the rain was still holding off at this point. About 9:30 the call started going round that the baggage trucks would close in 10 minutes, so I put my extra layers into my drop bag, and passed the bag to the volunteers on the truck. Having questioned where I was going to do my warm up, I soon found out as, having dropped off their bags, everyone started running in a loop around the assembly area. I joined in for a few laps, then did some of the warm up drills we do at Thursday night DRR reps. I managed to bump into fellow DRR Kate McIntosh at this point, so it was nice to see a familiar face!

The rain had started to come down now as we made our way out of the assembly area and into the start pen. The championship start lines up behind the elite men, however I had kept myself towards the back of the pen so I didn’t catch a glimpse of Sir Mo or Emile Cairess (1st British male, 2:08:07 debut), and had to make do with spotting a few well known YouTube runners.

The race was being started by the greatest marathon runner of all time, Eluid Kipchoge, who himself had competed at Boston Marathon six days earlier. We could hear the elite men’s names being called as they lined up, and the next thing I knew we were off! It was here that I made my biggest error of the day. As I crossed the start line I had a panic that my watch hadn’t started, and was so busy looking at it I forgot to look for Kipchoge!! Furious with myself, I turned my attention to the first mile and my race strategy: Nothing crazy until at least mile 20.

The first few miles got very busy very quickly. Starting from the championship start, we were out ahead of the “good for age” men (2:40 – 2:57 qualifying times for under 40 year old men in 2023) coming behind us from the Blue start and going a lot faster than me! After about 5k things had settled down a bit and the people around me were moving at roughly the same pace. Kate and I were running together for several stretches at this point and getting a good few shouts for Dundee. A fellow runner commented that perhaps the real reason Eilish McColgan had pulled out was fear that Kate and I would beat her, I told him I’d heard that too.

The first major landmark we passed was the Cutty Sark at about the 10k mark. The rain was really coming down now but that hadn’t stopped a huge number of supporters coming out and lining the route. It was about this point that I saw a flash of blue and white to the right of the road – it was none other than the famous Alison McNeilly moving at a serious pace! I put on a burst of speed to catch her up, but only for long enough to say hello and wish her well for the rest of the race before dropping back into my own pace.

The next couple of miles passed pretty well; there were plenty water stations along the course and my gels were sitting well so far. The watch was telling me I was on target pace, although I knew from the mile markers that my GPS was slightly out. The next major landmark was Tower Bridge, and the short climb up onto it was probably the only time on the route my legs really knew they were going uphill. The noise on the bridge was every bit as deafening as I’d been promised, with a huge number of supporters out despite the weather.

As we approached the half way point we passed a message board where people could send messages of support to display when their runner went past (if your pacing was consistent!). All of a sudden I realised my name was on it! I couldn’t believe it! Thank you

to Gail Stirling who had sent in messages of support for all the DRR runners! Suitably encouraged, I continued into the second half. At this point things were still going according to plan, the legs were tiring slightly but the pace still felt manageable. A bit further and the course doubles back on itself, and runners at roughly mile 22 were coming down the other side of the road. I managed to see a few of the elite women, including Sam Harrison (2:25:59, 6 min PB and first British female). I heard later that Jim saw Sir Mo at this point!

Next we were through Canary Warf and I’d been warned that the GPS would struggle though the tall buildings. I’d decided just not to look at the watch for this stretch and was glad of that decision when I checked my splits later and saw they were all over the place! Pushed on past mile 21 and by this point the legs were starting to fail me. I knew the pace was slipping so had stopped looking at the watch deciding I’d rather not know, I was doing the best I could.

Through a couple of tunnels and over “Blackfriars bump” although for us who train in Dundee this slight uphill was nothing to speak of. In the distance I caught sight of Big Ben – get there and it’s a mile to go! I knew at this point that I wasn’t going to manage my goal time, but I was still on for a PB which kept me going. Past Big Ben and down towards the Mall. 600m to go, then 400m to go, a lap of the track! Round the corner and you can see the finish.

Once over the line there’s plenty volunteers and medics on hand to help if you need it, and then you continue down the Mall to get your medal, T-shirt, and collect your bag from the baggage trucks. This year London Marathon did give runners to option not to collect a medal or T-shirt, but that a tree would be planted instead to contribute to their sustainability initiative.

Thank you to all the club members and coaches who supported the marathon runners in their training leading up to the race and on the day itself. Also thank you to all the DRR supporters along the route, some of whom I missed in the crowds but I managed to spot some of you (Sophie and Hector twice!).

It turned out to be a hugely successful day for DRR. Huge PBs were recorded by several members of the club, as well as some particularly notable runs.

Alison McNeilly: 2:58:53 – 2nd Scottish F40, first ever DRR lady to run sub 3!

Kate McIntosh: 3:05:22

Geoff Campbell: 3:05:45

Mairi Littleson: 3:06:50

Jim Morton: 3:13:19

Hannah Tippetts: 3:29:30

Ben Gibson: 3:29:46

Roy McKandie: 3:35:21

Arnaud Richard: 3:43:25

John Tierney: 3:44:29

Jackie Heilbronn: 3:48:49 – 1 st Scottish F60!

Rebecca Garside: 4:27:18

DRR ladies also managed to win Scottish Athletics team gold, for the fastest three finishers from one club.

Overall, I’d say London lived up to it’s billing as the most iconic of the Marathon Majors. The crowd support was tremendous the whole way round (even if I did start to find it a bit overwhelming when I was really tired!) and the whole event is very well organised and ran very smoothly.

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