London Marathon 2015: Realising a dream, hand-in-hand

Showing off my medal after completing the London Marathon for St John Ambulance.

Showing off my medal after completing the London Marathon for St John Ambulance. - Credit: Archant

Joy and relief – those two words sum up what it felt like to achieve a life-long ambition yesterday on the streets of the capital.

My parents show their support by the six-mile mark.

My parents show their support by the six-mile mark. - Credit: Archant

It’s been quite a week – the stress leading up to my charity quiz night on Thursday, the elation at raising £500 from it, the nerves before the race and the resulting lack of sleep, and then all manner of emotions during the marathon itself.

The end result, though, couldn’t be more satisfying or simple – I have a London Marathon medal, and have helped a fantastic cause in St John Ambulance in the process. Phew.

But it was never going to be straightforward. Having nursed a bit of a cold and the aforementioned lack of sleep, I wasn’t feeling in peak condition as a lined up at the start.

Maybe it was nerves, I’m not sure, but as I completed the early part of the race I had an impending sense of fear that I might not finish, again. This on a day when the weather gods had smiled kindly on me and produced near-perfect running conditions, and after six months of solid training where I had accomplished every goal I’d set.

Team Nick: My sister Cat and her husband Chris with my girlfriend Laura.

Team Nick: My sister Cat and her husband Chris with my girlfriend Laura. - Credit: Archant

But then there’s nothing like a marathon to put your mind into overdrive, as there’s just so much to think about.

After my collapse from dehydration in 2013, it was difficult to not obsess about the water and Lucozade stops along the route – striking that balance between having enough and not too much.

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Another obvious obstacle was the sheer number of people – this year’s race had the largest number of finishers in London Marathon history and it sure felt like that as I dodged and dived past people to maintain my pace, probably holding others up in equal measure.

Then there was the desperation to see loved ones along the way. My parents, girlfriend Laura, sister Cat and brother-in-law Chris were among the many shouting my name in support, but despite various tactics – a certain whistle blowing tune, a specially designed sign – it was my mum’s purple coat that attracted my attention as I went past them at about the six-mile point.

Being cheered on at the 17-mile mark.

Being cheered on at the 17-mile mark. - Credit: Archant

Shouting ‘mum, mum’, wouldn’t be a preferable tactic, but it did the trick. The funny thing was that I had been worried about them seeing me so pale, well I felt pale at any rate, but they wouldn’t have been able to make out much either way from the fleeting glimpse.

Fairly soon after my childhood friend and long-time neighbour Kerry White said hello and gave me a little embrace as she came past me – we were both aiming to finish in around four hours but had decided to run an independent race, so I decided not to follow her slightly quicker pace.

By this point I had already made a conscious decision not to go chasing a time, it was all about finishing.

It’s hard to pinpoint why, or exactly where, but then I started to feel better. My legs felt less heavy, I felt more alive and, most importantly, in control.

A rather worried looking Nick Gill and running companion Kerry White together at the 19-mile mark.

A rather worried looking Nick Gill and running companion Kerry White together at the 19-mile mark. - Credit: Archant

It might have been the noise on the iconic Tower Bridge at around the 12-mile mark that did the trick, I don’t know, but something changed. There’s a photo of me at that point taken by one of the professional photographers, and the renewed sense of vigour is there for all to see.

As I reached half way in just over two hours, I remember thinking about Mo Farah finishing at 13.1 miles back in 2013 – don’t ask me why – and all the famous athletes who have trod the same course.

Then I saw Paula Radcliffe on the other side of the road – around the 21-mile mark I believe – nodding her head in that distinctive style as the crowd, and runners, shouted ‘Paula, Paula’. It made me think (and this sounds silly): ‘I’m running the London Marathon, and I’m going to enjoy it’.

As I headed into the Isle of Dogs I felt good but my mind started to wander back to the events of 2013. After going through an underpass just before 15 miles, I came out into the light to see the spot where those closest to me had stood two years before.

Myself and Kerry with our medals.

Myself and Kerry with our medals. - Credit: Archant

Incidentally, they couldn’t have stood there if they had wanted to, as roadworks meant that section was completely shut off to spectators.

After seeing them my overriding thought at the time was the effort it was taking to head back to the other side of the road to get to the Lucozade fuel station.

That had been a sign that day but during yesterday’s race it gave me strength, as I didn’t feel that way this time around. Soon after we entered ‘Narrow Street’, which was exactly that, so I made a joke to the bloke next to me. Needless to say it wasn’t funny, but least we were laughing.

And then to the moment that defined my race, and ensured I would get that medal after all.

It was just before the 16-mile point, I think, when Kerry appeared alongside me once more.

Evidently I had passed her before without knowing it – it’s easier to do than you might think – but she had clocked me and was determined to get up alongside.

I had actually been running a short while with a guy also called Nick who was running for Stopsley Striders (the club meets at the bottom of my road), so having two connections to home at my side in a field of 38,000 felt good.

As Nick headed off in front – I’ve just checked his time and he finished in an impressive 4h 01m 12s – myself and Kerry made a pact to finish the race hand-in-hand, the theme coinciding with the marathon’s 35th anniversary.

I’m sure Kerry won’t mind me saying this but at that point, I think she was grateful to see a familiar face.

I had got my second wind and was feeling strong, but I think setting your heart on a time can be draining – especially when maintaining a consistent pace is so difficult in a huge crowd.

A week earlier my brother-in-law Chris had run an incredible PB at the Greater Manchester Marathon, knocking 13 minutes off his previously London best by finishing in a time of 3h 56m 44s. There and then, Kerry said, like me, let’s forget about the time and finish together. (Chris, permission to be smug about this).

So we did. Passing one of the St John Ambulance units near to where I had collapsed was a poignant moment, and spurred me on even more.

Even cramp in my right hamstring at 20 miles didn’t stop me, slowly managing to run it off despite the initial fears that I might not be able to.

And although we began to slow, the end was in sight, and seeing our families at various points along the way helped us get there.

The crowds were incredible, and seeing so many St John volunteers out on the course – many offering vital first aid when people needed it most – kept me going to the end.

And then we saw Buckingham Palace, and knew we had done it. We crossed the line hand-in-hand and boy did it feel wonderful. Feeling the weight of the medal round my neck was even better.

The time? 4h 08m 59s (26.49 miles, if you must know), but this time it was about so much more.

Thanks to everyone for their support and donations. So far I have raised more than £1,400 for St John which will be match funded by my company, Archant.

It’s been some journey – please forgive my marathon post – but it’s definitely been worth it.