by Ruth Hancock, recipient of our club place for the 2024 TCS London Marathon

It’s taken a while to process what happened on 21st April, I’m not going to lie. What an absolutely fabulous experience! From the moment my name was announced at Awards Night, to crossing that illustrious finish line, London Marathon surpassed every expectation. And I cannot be more grateful for the opportunity – I am extremely lucky.

As an event, the TCS London Marathon is exceptionally well organised – the most difficult thing was having to visit the Excel in advance of the race itself to collect my bib number and t-shirt. But that passed without a hitch and I managed to meet up with Jo to do a little shopping and continue the carb-loading process over lunch. The HARC cheer squad (Gemma, Katy and Sara) were treated to cocktails at Searcy’s champagne bar before they went off to meet Shalev and deliver his HARC hoodie.

I started Race Day with the breakfast of kings, hopped on numerous trains and tubes, and quickly found myself being swept along with thousands of other hopefuls. Mary spotted me at London Bridge station but unfortunately I didn’t see her – everything was kind of happening in a blur as I edged ever forward to the Blue start line. There was camaraderie, nerves, story-swapping, fancy-dress costumes, supporters with their hilarious signs and a ton of emotion.

On arrival at Blackheath, the wind was biting and I was regretting the decision to wear a vest, but my throw-away sweatshirt (collected at the start line for charity) and plastic poncho came in handy as I sheltered in someone’s doorway. Thankfully on the course itself, there were only a few occasions where I could feel the wind in my face, and it was certainly nowhere near as bad as some of those previous training runs. The rest of the time it was by my side, as you all were, metaphorically speaking. I dropped my post-race bag at the lorry, hunkered down behind a PA stand and listened to the roar as each wave was set off.

And in no time at all, it was my turn. Shalev, Mary and Jo had all gone off in previous separate waves, mine was second to last, but there was no let-up in terms of atmosphere or encouragement as we were counted down to the off. All that was left to do was run. Just one foot in front of the other, and repeat. For 26.2 miles. It turned out to be the perfect day for a run. None of us could believe our luck weather-wise.

As most of you know, I don’t run alone; I don’t like it. Every training run I was joined by at least one of you lovely lot and sometimes by a veritable posse. Just how I like it. Running. Chatting. Stopping to fuel and hydrate. Walking some of the hills. Etc. Etc. You get the picture. But on that day, I ran alone (with about 53,000 other runners) without a single stop for 17 miles. First target met. OK, there was a cheeky pause at Cutty Sark to kiss the cheer squad. I was so elated to see them, and already immensely proud of myself and HARC.

I didn’t really chat to anyone, except to respond to the crowd’s cheers or a fleeting comment to another runner. I stuck to the blue racing-line as far as I could, picking off people who weren’t quite at my pace, soaking up the spectacle and wall of sound all around me. It was difficult to spot all the landmarks because you kind of get ‘in the zone’, but Tower Bridge, the Gherkin and the Shard were iconic enough. I managed to overtake Scooby Doo, a rhino, a washing machine and Romesh Ranganathan (still regretting not taking a selfie) and the miles quickly whittled down.

All was going well until an ache in my shoulder developed and then started to play on my mind because I couldn’t work out where it had come from. Sticking to the fuelling and hydration regime used on my training runs paid off, so I didn’t actually hit a wall as such, but I got out of kilter because there was something niggling away. However, by mile 18, with the help of some excellent disco music (thanks Candi Staton) and the most deafening screams from the cheer squad, I managed to boogie my way out of it. Note to self – smile, laugh, dance, do something silly to break the cycle in future because it works. Mile 20 saw ‘squatty potty’ being tested to the hilt and by then I was back on track.

Before I knew it, the end of the race was nigh. Just a 10k left. Rainbow Row barely registered but according to Jo there was a huge stage and great entertainment from a gaggle of drag artists. Birdcage Walk was my favourite bit.

The crowds had been at least 5 or 6 deep around the whole course, but now there were even more supporters at the side of the road. And it’s true, the crowd really do carry you round. Running London on my own is absolute testament to that. The Houses of Parliament looked glorious bathed in the afternoon sun and then Buckingham Palace came into view as we rounded the corner onto The Mall – the homeward stretch. And yes, I did save enough for a classic Ruthie sprint finish. Because I knew you were at home watching me, watching all of the HARC team cross that line.

With that stunning rose-gold medal round my neck, I fell into Jo’s arms for post-race tears of joy, before insisting on doing some stretches (I knew they would be worth it the day after). A short walk later, bags collected, we headed to Horse Guards Parade to meet our families, and the cheer squad.

On the train back to my brother’s, an email pinged through with my finish time (a 20 minute PB of 05:43:30) and a link to sign up for 2025. Did I hit the link? You bet I did! Along with a record beating 840,000 others, smashing the previous record of last year’s ballot. But how could I not? It was the race of my life. I doubt anything could beat it, and the chance to do it all again …. Well, I’d be foolish not to.

So, huge congratulations to our other runners: Shalev Bahalul, Mary Gregory and Joanne Sinnott; massive thanks to the cheer squad: Gemma Wardle, Katy Foster and Sara Sherwood; hugs to each and every one of you who supported me in any way during my training period and are continuing to do so.

And fingers crossed for all those who have entered for next year. I look forward to passing on the HARC baton, but secretly hope I’ll be running alongside you.

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