Running the London Marathon for Deafblind UK – what to expect

The outlook was not good. It was 9:30am. The temperature was rising. The toilet queues were enormous. And I’d just managed to tell a vegan person that my family was taking me out for KFC later.

Despite my faux pas, waiting with bated breath at the London Marathon starting line was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I was one of 40,000 runners who would soon be coursing around the streets of the capital, and if you’d told me that four months previously, I would have laughed in your face.

How it all began

Back in December 2017, I’d been working with Deafblind UK for about a year. During a casual email exchange with the marketing manager, Naomi, I mentioned that I’d just run the Yorkshire Marathon. She told me that charity places were on offer for Deafblind UK in London. “I may as well apply,” I thought. “I’ll never get in.”

I remember the email subject line: London Marathon 2018 – GOOD NEWS. I’ll be honest and say I had a moment of panic and a few tears. What ensued was six weeks of the most fun I’d had in ages – and that was before the training!

Fundraising for Deafblind UK

The Deafblind UK team comprised a few other runners – we had each other’s back. We each had to raise £1,500 as part of our fundraising entry. To me, this was scarier than the training – how could we secure that many donations?

I decided to take a different approach. I came up with the “dares for donations” concept, whereby I would perform acts of public humiliation in exchange for a donation to Deafblind UK. All the donors had to do was come up with a dare – within reason – and donate their cash. This quickly spiralled into “dares” including:

  • Singing The Circle of Life at the top of my voice in Co-op
  • Same again, but Black Box’s Ride on Time, this time in Tesco
  • Finishing an entire chocolate cake, Bruce Bogtrotter-style
  • Trying one of the world’s hottest chilli peppers.

With the power of social media, the donations, and their subsequent dares, came flooding in. I spoke to a local newspaper, who ran my story, and then had a guest slot on BBC Radio York. In total, the whole campaign had two newspaper articles, three radio interviews and one slot on a local TV news channel. The donation target was reached within six weeks – just enough time to start training!

The big day

If you can remember back to 2018’s “Beast from the East”, suffice to say, training was not always easy. One stand-out memory was mile 15 of a 16-mile run, during which I hit a sleet storm. That was probably the fastest I’d ever run.

You can imagine our collective horror, then, when we found out that 2018 was to be the hottest London Marathon on record. The mercury peaked at 23° C, which doesn’t sound like much, but with compression socks and four months of training in Siberian conditions, it was quite a shock.

Getting started

Still, it wasn’t raining, and everybody was in good spirits. We all grinned in anticipation as we watched Her Majesty the Queen counting down on the big screen. It wasn’t quite a flying start though – in fact, there was probably half an hour of walking like zombies to reach the starting line.

You see, the race starts in three “zones”, colour co-ordinated by celebrity runners, professional runners, and everybody else. I fit into the latter category and had to get off the train in Greenwich. Runners are then let out in 10-minute time slots. I was due to start at 10:30, and I think I set off around five minutes later.

Along the way

Whoever said the London Marathon was a flat course, lied! It’s not a mountain range, but I do recall a few long upward gradients, particularly over dual carriageways. What I will say is that there was no shortage of support, or the much-needed refreshments. I believe 2018 was the first year in which they trialled paper cups, so to this year’s runners, I say: watch out for the “paper cup mulch” as you follow the runners in front!

The Deafblind UK team were waiting at mile 6 around the Cutty Sark, and I even managed to pose for a photo. I’ll always say I looked happy at this point because I still had 20 miles to go! The support really was incredible though, from bands and dancers to firefighters spraying water and local pubs holding up signs.

There’s all the support from the runners, too. I remember about 15 miles in, I stopped to tie my shoe. A fellow runner told me to run back because I’d missed one of the timing markers. I might not have got a finishing time otherwise!

Personal highlights

There was a certain solidarity in the toilet queue – other people were suffering just as much as me by mile 10, and had given up trying to get a good finishing time! Word of warning: there are hundreds of toilets along the route, so keep your eyes open and go for one with a short queue.

I saw my family around Tower Bridge and hugged them all. At certain points, you almost forget you’re in London – but then, out of nowhere, another landmark appears. Try to decide beforehand where you’re going to see them. If you’ve got headphones with a speaker, you can even call and warn them that you’re coming. My partner says his tracking app struggled with the crowds!

The final mile or two had to be the defining moment for me. Running with the London Eye and Houses of Parliament in clear view, fuelled by an energy gel and the knowledge that it was nearly over, really got the endorphins going. I saw a spectator with a “run the world” sign and shouted “GIRLS!” in response. Thank you Beyoncé.

A day you’ll never forget

It was hot; it was uncomfortable, but it was an experience I’ll always remember. If you’re running for the first time this year, remember:

  • Look up your starting zone and train station in advance
  • Make sure you pick up your running number from ExCel London a few days before
  • Carry electrolytes such as Dioralyte – you can pour these into water bottles
  • Take advantage of the water hoses
  • If it cramps, stop and tie your shoe
  • Forget the finishing time. In the end, you’ll only remember the experience!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Deafblind UK for giving me this wonderful memory. Of course, running for any charity is admirable, but this one seemed to strike a chord with many donors. A lot of people, even strangers, told me how their families had been affected by sensory loss. What may be a struggle for a few months to you is nothing compared to these people’s daily struggles, so it was an honour to be involved.