London Marathon 2023 - Gemma Hughes

Having unsuccessfully applied through the London Marathon ballot many times, I was delighted to win the draw for the club place at the end of last year. I’d also always wanted to run for a charity so this was perfect. I chose to the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT), a small UK charity. I started training with a 4.30 finish time in mind. After the pre-London marathon run I thought that I could possibly manage a 4.15, so that became the new plan!

We arrived at Greenwich Park with plenty of time, so sat down and watched all the runners arriving to the Red Start. Just as it started to rain it was my turn to arrive at the start area and time say goodbye to my husband and parents. I had a bit of a walk to find lorry 10 to drop off my bag and I crossed my fingers that I would see it again at the end. I then walked into the assembly field and I managed to meet Matt, one of the other 8 people running for my charity, who has had eye cancer himself. We had a little chat, took some pictures then I joined the horrendous toilet queue! There was a huge tv screen in the field showing each wave starting and at this point it really hit home what a big race this really is.

Then I moved to my wave area and struck up a conversation with another lady and we stayed together until the start. The rain got quite a bit heavier at this point and I kept an old jumper on until the donation bins near the start. As we walked through the gates to go towards the start, lots of people around me were getting a little emotional, me included! Then we were off, and from this point the rain seemed to ease just to a light drizzle.

I intended to take it fairly steady at the beginning just to see how the race panned out, so I just tried to stay below a 9.30 minute mile pace. I saw my family about a mile in, then I just tried to relax and soak in the atmosphere. There was people lining both sides of the streets, all the local residents came out to support us. There were people banging on saucepans, people playing music from their gardens, kids waving from balconies, even a man on a mobility scooter honking his horn and a man reading prayers at the side of the road!

I saw my family again at mile 6 just before Cutty Sark. The route was packed with supporters on both sides of the road, many of them shouting my name from my charity vest, or giving me a high five as I ran past. At this point I noticed my pace had got a bit quicker but I felt good so just decided to stick with it and see how it went! After running past numerous fancy dress costumes including a dog, a telephone box, a duck and a book, I got to Tower Bridge, just before halfway. The bridge was packed with people and the noise was tremendous. For me this was definitely the best part of the route. Still feeling good I headed out towards the Isle of Dogs. This was a bit more of a difficult stretch as I knew I wouldn’t see my family for a while and there was a bit less support on the course along here, but I kept my head down and we were soon heading out to Canary Wharf.

At about mile 19 I began to feel a familiar pain in my left leg. This seems to be a pain I get when I run a long distance over a flattish course. Unfortunately this pain is quite intense and increases the more I run. I tried to push on but eventually I had to take some pain relief as it was getting too much. Mile 21 was the slowest one yet at 10 minute miles. I saw my family again for a well needed boost and just afterwards I saw fellow club member Lauren shout my name. This was a lovely surprise as I didn’t know she was going to be there! After that, I thought now is the time to dig deep and get this done. The pain was still there but thanks to the painkillers it had dulled slightly.

It’s quite likely to be the only time I’ll ever run this race so I was conscious that I wanted to give it my all. I knew I’d be disappointed if I’d finished and felt that I could have run quicker. So from mile 23 I decided to put the pain to one side and to go for it. At this point I was less aware of the crowd and I became a lot more focussed on getting to the end. I saw my family one last time on the Embankment, just as I passed a man running with a fridge on his back. However much pain I felt, it can’t have been as much as he was in!

The last mile past the Houses of Parliament seemed to go on forever but again the support kept me going. They were shouting my name and saying things like ‘strong finish Gemma’ and I felt like a celebrity! Eventually the finish came and it was a huge relief to be able to stop running. I finished with a time of 4:04:05. The competitive side of me wishes I could have got a sub 4, but I know that I pushed as hard as I could have done, so ultimately I am pleased! It was also a much quicker time than I originally trained for. When I first started running in 2018, I would never have believed that I’d have been running the London marathon in 5 years time, and I am very grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity.