It was late one Friday night on the 22nd April and I received a text from Daryl. “What are you doing tomorrow night?” (I assume it said that, I honestly can’t remember, but it makes for a good story so let’s go with it.). “Nothing” I respond. “Want to run a marathon” he replies….
Now then. What’s all this about? Daryl explained that there was an unofficial London Marathon taking place the night before the race. In a nutshell, you meet at 2am at the finish line, run the course in reverse and finish before the marathon starts in Greenwich. This did sound appealing. I was generally in a good state of fitness. I hadn’t run more than about 10km that year though. Either way, I understood it would be a casual run. No pressures. No expectations. Fuck it. Why not.
Saturday evening I was in a pub watching Man United vs Everton with two friends. They’d arranged to go out and ‘make a night of it’. I was thinking ‘when the game end will so I can get some sleep’?!
I met Daryl in the city near his office. Our plan was to leave our stuff there and head back afterwards for a shower before joining his running group – Run Dem Crew – to support the marathoners doing the actual race. We prep’d up, had a laugh with the security man on duty about how ridiculous what we were about to do was, and headed over to Birdcage walk and the meeting point.
The runners started trickling in before a large group, who’d met at McDonalds for some calorie loading, showed up. I distinctly remember overhearing one guy say he’d just come straight from a wedding for the run. He was loaded up on Gin. Crazy fool / legend! I think there was close to 200 people in total who showed up (or would be showing up as there was also a second pace group starting later).
Someone gave a little speech. I don’t think they said much other than “Off you go” and that was it. We were running a marathon. At night. Through the heart of London. It wasn’t long before the mayhem of a large group of runners took over. People headed off on their own, at different paces. Runners were separated at traffic lights and junctions. People took slightly different paths/cut corners at their discretion. Daryl and I stuck together as we intended though. I think somewhere along Embankment we found ourselves in a little group of about 6 people, we started chatting away and settled into a pace we were all happy with.
The vast majority of the run was uneventful and can be summarised as follows: Drunk people, Canary Wharf – getting lost, pit stops & cheese, getting to know each other, Canary Wharf – always visible, Woolwich – so dull, The hill – the damned hill! Let me elaborate…
As we ran through the city, I realised that, in all my time in London, I’d rarely (if ever) enjoyed London at night Sober. But one thing was immediately clear was the volume of drunk people staggering around at 2:30am. We got plenty of cheers from the drunk revellers searching their next party.
We reached Canary Wharf at some point. I don’t know when or how. This was back when I wasn’t recording/tracking runs. We were just running. Whilst the majority of the route was prepped with railings ready, Canary Wharf wasn’t. We were running the major roads with traffic in all directions. We were going round in circles and had no idea where we were. Fortunately one guy had a pretty strong understanding of the route (you’ll find out why in the next section) and he managed to direct us through the dark concrete jungle. Two fingers to you Canary Wharf. We win.
In our group was a gentleman (I forget his name) whose friend (I forget her name too) had decided to cycle the route with us. Whilst she had to take different roads a lot of the time, we’d often find her waiting up ahead. This was brilliant for two reasons. Firstly, it made us regroup and stop and re-fuel. Secondly, she’d packed a tonne of food in her bike bags. We were treated to homemade flapjacks, fruit, chocolate and cheese. Cheese on a run?! It’s been a staple of my running nutrition ever since! Whoever you were, thank you!!
And so to the runners we were with. It was a mixed bag. There was a woman who was training for an 8 day, self-supported ultra across Scotland. A man who would be running the marathon straight after this one following a bet from a friend to raise an extra £500 for charity, the gentleman who knew the route as he paces at the London Marathon as a guide for partially-impaired runners (he too would be running the race after completing this one) and some dude who was dressed as Spiderman. I don’t know why. Then there was Daryl, running his first marathon and me, the tag along with a days’ notice. A mixed bag! I remember the woman’s story was particularly impressive and touching. She was a keen runner and cyclist but last year was knocked off her bike. She broke both her legs. Less than a year later, against her doctor’s advice she was running marathons and ultras. In her own words “it doesn’t hurt when I run. But it does when I don’t run”. She was one determined lady!
The second half of the course was tough going. As we entered South London the streets were quieter and there were less distractions. For me, Canary Wharf become the bitch of my fascination. She was so visible, all lit up in the dark. Everywhere we turned we could see her. She never escaped us. Always teasing us. She was doing my head in! We then reached Woolwich, I’m guessing around 5am. It was very cold by now and raining. Woolwich isn’t the most attractive of places at the best of times. On a grey, damp, pre-dawn April morning it’s an absolute shithole to look at for an exhausted runner. The chatting had gone. We were all in silence. Just running. Plodding along. I (and probably a few of the others) knew what lay ahead. Daryl didn’t….
Back when I ran the London Marathon in 2013 I remember the starting few miles. The crowd is split over 3 different coloured running starting points. Just before you enter Woolwich Arsenal all the starters merge together as you run downhill. Yep, downhill. It isn’t particularly steep or much of an elevation but, running the course in reverse and having to go up the hill after 20 plus miles was going to be a struggle. I was mentally ready for this. Daryl wasn’t. Eventually we hit the hill, and with it the runners wall. None of us were particularly good at this point and we all slowed and walked where we had too. Daryl dropped off slightly as he vocalised his mantra “Daryl made for hills, Daryl made for hills” repeatedly. We eventually regrouped at the top again as we reached Blackheath. It was completed.
There was no fanfare. No supporters. No cheering. No congratulations. No medals. No anything. Just rain and a desire to get the fuck out of there and find somewhere warm. We took a photo with the group. Said our thanks and all parted different ways. Daryl and I headed down into Greenwich. We were freezing as the dampness and morning chill combined to make us shiver. All the restaurants and cafes were still closed (it was before 7am after all). We sacked off waiting to meet with other runners completing the run and instead jumped on a tube back to Daryl’s office. Warm showers and some more snacks and we started to perk up.
We headed out to East London to join the Run Dem Crew supporters. They were in amazing spirits with music, instruments, banners and loud voices. We spent most of the time in a busy café eating huge breakfasts. I don’t remember what happened after this but I know I slept well that night!