My London Marathon diary for The Guardian’s G2 – part 3

Speeches to audiences of thousands, live TV political debates, election night at the count, pah – I have never been as nervous as I was early on Sunday morning.

We arrived too early and after two hours of waiting, we gathered at the start – me, my sister Joanna and her two friends Kate and Sian. The mood was one of excited gallows humour. “What time are you expecting?” someone asked. “Five would be great but more like 5.30,” I replied. “I’ll be lucky to get in before quarter to six,” he said.

The first few miles were wild. Herded to the front of the “green start”, with banks of experienced club runners behind us, it was all I could do to avoid being swept to the floor as thousands of much younger, fitter runners surged past.

But then, three miles in, as we joined the main “red start” field, the crowds lining the streets suddenly mushroomed, and the noise was deafening.

I tried to keep focused on not going too fast. But it was hard, with such an amazing atmosphere. And the miles sped by.

Those first 13 miles are a bit of a blur. I remember feeling hot in the sun, a quick stop for a photo with Greenwich Labour party at mile five, and worrying that we passed 10 miles in 1 hour 50 minutes – 10 minutes faster than I had ever done before.

Going over Tower Bridge was fabulous – halfway and at last north of the river. Though the sight of much faster runners going the other way up the Highway, eight miles ahead at their mile 21, brought me back to earth.

But then the problems started. My right knee, which has been sore for weeks – compensating for long-standing left ankle trouble, apparently – started to seize up.

And as I tried to smile at Yvette and the family at mile 14, I was actually in agony. Crisis – I had to stop and walk. I missed my trainer Nick in the crowd.

The knee kept giving way when I tried to run. Deep doubts set in.

My running partner started shouting out to other runners – “Anyone got any painkillers?” I kept my head down, and tried to forget I was a senior politician. Thankfully, a lovely guy stopped with some ibuprofen.

The next three miles, back and forth through Docklands, were hell. I was passed by a woman Hula Hooping her way round, and a Water Aid camel.

Only the crowd, and thinking of the finish and the children I was running for, kept me going – and the horror of not making it to the end.

But I knew I had supporters waiting at mile 19, and with my head down I managed to get into a rhythm again, ignoring the other runners and just following the white markings on the road. And as the painkillers kicked in, I got a new lease of life. By the time we got to mile 21 and passed the family again, I was motoring. This was uncharted territory – I had never run more than 20 miles before.

But that final seven or eight miles was fantastic. By the time I passed the Whizz-Kidz and Action for Stammering Children supporters at mile 23, I was loving it. And this time, it was my turn to do the overtaking.

I will never forget that run down the Embankment. The crowds were cheering us all to keep going. The pain of Docklands was behind me. And I overtook the camel.

That last mile up to Westminster Bridge, down Birdcage Walk and round on to The Mall was wonderful. As I saw the family cheering from my office balcony, I remember punching the air.

I hit the finish in five hours 31 minutes, as it turns out just two minutes behind my sister. Oh well, she is two years younger! And I felt great. I think I had been expecting to be close to collapse at the finish, but after the earlier trauma, I was really comfortable as I firmly said no to the “buggy” that the Virgin organisers had laid on – presumably having picked up word of my knee problems earlier on. Good grief!

Twenty-four hours on, and it is still hard to take it all in. My knee is sore, my legs are tired but I’m OK. I’ve had so many texts and emails and tweets – and the fundraising for my two charities has passed £58,000, which is extraordinary. Thank you to everybody who has sponsored me for these two great causes, including many G2 readers.

The verdict on my time seems to be “not bad for a 45-year-old novice marathon finisher”. Which I suppose is fine. Because I am. And I did.

You can still back my run for Whizz-Kidz and Action for Stammering Children at:

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Posted April 23rd, 2012 by Ed