Amarjeet Khera takes us through the highs and lows of his journey through the scorching London Marathon 2018 – from start to finish-line!
The Virgin London Marathon 2018. It was everything I expected and a whole lot more!
I’d been putting my name in the ballot for several years, not really expecting to get through, but last October when the magazine landed on my doormat, I was both thrilled and worried.
Finally I’d get a chance to run THE marathon – I knew there were others, but London was always the dream. And then about 5 seconds later came the doubt – could I actually do this? I know how I’ve felt at the end of every half marathon I’ve done – knackered and thankful it wasn’t the full 26.2.
Fortunately I have a great trainer – Sam Monk – and he started putting a plan together tailored around me. He knows my health history and he knows that I struggle to get the sessions in. But he also knows that I’m stubborn and put the work in when it’s needed.
The plan was 16 weeks, 3 runs per week, plus a strength session and a x-training session. The original target was a 4:25 Marathon time. My longest runs were to be 18, 20 and 22 miles followed by a 3 week taper. To make sure I got the miles in, I also entered as many 10k and half marathon races as I could squeeze in to the program. And to give me extra drive, I decided to run and raise money for Lambeth & Southwark Mind, for whom I’d previously run the Royal Parks Half.
All the training, as everyone knows, was done in driving rain, wind, snow, sleet and cold. But it got done. My longest long run went well and ended up being 23 miles, and my revised target was a 4:15 Marathon.
Then it started getting hot.
Hydration plans, pacing and running kit was hastily revised! This became all the more real when the presentations at the Expo all focused on running in the heat, how to hydrate and what not to do. My target time was revised to 4:45 – take it easy, keep the heart rate down, make sure you finish.
Sunday morning. 22nd April.
I left home early and got to Blackheath at 8am. I wanted to be early for a change, get my nerves settled and get the 10000 loo breaks I normally require before a race out of the way.
By 9.50am I was in my start pen – and to be honest a bit disappointed that I was so far back in pen 7 on the Blue start. It meant that by the time I crossed the start line it was gone 10.35.
Once past the start though, the feeling was incredible – I’d started the London Marathon! People were cheering, kids were high-fiving, I was hearing my name everywhere. It felt like a party and I was totally enjoying myself.
I’d started a little fast, but then settled into a good pace. The first few miles went by quickly – I had a huge cheer of support from @sikhdad and the Sikh community in Woolwich, I got hugs from @gemmachin and @joannahudd in Charlton, bumped into @mighty_singh13, and had countless other Londoners cheering ME on!
I stuck to my hydration plan, and started on my extra strength Tailwind early on, as well as taking a bottle of water from each of the water stations. The advice was drink-drain-drop – and that was pretty much what I did.
Before I knew it, I’d arrived in Greenwich, gone around the Cutty Sark and was on my way out to Deptford. I saw my trainer, Sam, and his family at mile 7.5. I think he was relieved that I’d stuck to the plan, and hadn’t got carried away – and he helpfully pointed out that there were showers coming up on the route.
Next up was Surrey Quays and Rotherhithe. The route by now was really congested – lots of walkers and people starting to struggle. I was constantly having to stop short, dodge people or reduce my stride length – all of which started to sap energy and placed extra stress on my quads and hamstrings. And by this time any kind of etiquette around the water stations had gone out of the window as everyone started criss-crossing and bumping in to each other trying to get a drink.
I knew @tej_kaur_r & the kids would be on Jamaica Road, and I was watching out for them – desperate not to miss them as I knew they’d made a huge effort to get there. When I saw them, I stopped for hugs from the kids and words of encouragement from Tejinder, and then carried on towards Tower Bridge with a new sense of purpose and renewed energy.
Tower Bridge is unreal. I slowed down to take in the atmosphere, the wall of noise and to take pictures, but all too quickly I was across and hitting the dreaded right turn out towards Wapping and the technical half way point – I say technical, I’d been warned several times that mentally the half way point would come towards 20 miles…
People always say that the loop around Isle of Dogs is tough as you’ve just done a half marathon, you’re only half way, and you’re running away from the finish line. Personally, I found the support of the crowds around that loop to be incredibly uplifting. These were people from all walks of life shouting out my name and urging me on. I was high-fiving my way around trying to turn and acknowledge every shout – and I think that helped to raise the intensity of the cheering.
There were by this point a lot of runners who were really struggling or who had just got it wrong on the day. I saw so many people flat out on the side of the street, some getting medical attention, others just struggling to breath, and many more stretching out in the little areas of shade. There was still at least 10 miles to go, and it really brought home how brutal the marathon distance can be, and in particular how extraordinary the conditions were on the day.
I started struggling at around 18 miles. I think although I had stuck to my hydration plan, the heat was so intense by then, that I was starting to get dehydrated. That, coupled with constantly dodging other runners and walkers and having to shorten my stride, meant that I started to feel my knees getting sore, and my hamstrings starting to cramp.
By 18.5 miles I had to stop. I knew if I didn’t, that my legs would properly cramp up, and the job of getting around the rest of the course would become much much tougher. And it was a full stop – not a slow to a walk – which is not something I’ve ever done before. I had to stretch and massage out my legs, and I tightened up my knee straps as much as they would go. I took time to mix another batch of Tailwind (great advice from Ryan on the Tailwind Nutrition stand at the Expo to invest in the new Salomon wide necked softflasks and take additional sachets with me!) and had a handful of jelly babies (I always carry jelly babies on long runs, just in case!)
It took me a little while to get going again, but once I did, I managed to get back up to a reasonable pace, and having done the math in my head, I thought I could still get around in 4:45.
Around 20 miles, I was back in my stride and saw @gemmachin and @joannahudd again. It was hugely unexpected and had me absolutely beaming. A huge hug and I was off again. I felt really good running back towards Wapping and Tower Bridge and, although I felt sorry for those people that were still coming through the to the half way point, it felt great to be on the other side of the road now going towards the finish line.
Somewhere along this next stretch two things happened.
One was a low point: we were told by stewards and medics to slow down as there was a major incident ahead. At the time my thoughts went immediately to the Boston Marathon of 2013… everybody slowed down and we were pretty much at walking pace. I now believe this to be related to the collapse of Matt Campbell, who sadly lost his life that day.
The other was a high point: I heard my name being shouted and turned to see @bigcarlrunning and his dad waving at me. I ran back and gave Carl a hug. It was exactly what I needed at the time.
Heading up towards Blackfriars I was looking forward to seeing the #cowbellcheersquad – I’d been promised a hug by @lillybet.runs.alot. As it happened running through that stretch, the course widened out, there was space to run, and although I was looking out for them and I could hear the sound of cowbells everywhere, I just couldn’t see the squad. I kept on running though, knowing that my family were waiting for me near Waterloo Bridge.
I nearly missed them as they were on the opposite side of the road to where we’d agreed. Thankfully the guys waiting with Tejinder and the kids spotted me and shouted out. I had another quick hug and was back off along the final stretch – less than 2 miles to go!
Running towards Big Ben along the Embankment with all the crowds cheering is a real height of the day. I was tired, but I was really feeding off the energy of the crowd. Every time I felt myself slowing to walk (which happened more times than I wanted) I would hear my name and words of encouragement, and overtime I sped up again, the cheering would get louder.
Rounding the corner at Westminster, I knew I was nearly there. Less than a mile to go. The course widened out again. I refocused and could see the signs for the 800m mark and then the 600m mark and Buckingham Palace.
I’d being running within myself the whole race – making sure I didn’t over do it, and making sure my heart rate stayed in the green. But now was the time to give it everything, make sure I was smiling, and a push to the finish.
The 385 yard marker came into view. This was it. A final surge of energy and adrenaline. I had a quick look around to see which finish lane I was going to take and decided on the left side as it seemed pretty empty.. and crossed the line.
I was finally a #marathoner in a time of 4:44:13.
The post finish was a bit of a haze. There was a huge sense of euphoria upon being presented with the finishers medal and then a round of photos. By this point I’d completely forgotten that I’d been running in sunglasses and so you can’t see my eyes in any of my pictures.
I wandered, very slowly, and on very wobbly legs, back to London Bridge where I’d arranged to meet Tejinder and the kids. The job was done. The marathon was run. Now it was time to relax.
The 2018 Virgin London Marathon is an experience that will always stay with me. I didn’t get the time I’d trained for. I had to stop. I had to walk parts of it. But this year, because of the weather, it was brutal and unforgiving, and I still managed to finish it. It was a hell of way to be inducted into marathon running!
I say inducted, as I will be putting my name in the ballot next week for #VLM2019, and I’m already focussed now on the Edinburgh Marathon in just over 4 weeks time… I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone before, but had entered as a contingency just in case there were problems leading up to VLM. Now the challenge is to see if I can do a sub 4:30.
I’m lucky to have friends and family who have been incredibly supportive, and the running community on Instagram has been a real source of inspiration and strength to me.
Thank you to everyone that has supported and sponsored me on the marathon journey – thanks to you I’ve joined the 1%, and have raised almost £1500 for Lambeth and Southwark Mind in the process!
You can support Amo’s future charity runs by donating here.
To keep following Amo on his journey, just visit his Instagram.
Feeling inspired? Join us for the Royal Parks Half Marathon 2018!