'The best laid plans...'

That often-quoted phrase, originally penned by Robert Burns, is oh, so true! It is fair to say that the last couple of weeks before the London Marathon were not what I had planned: with a fortnight to go, I picked up a heavy cold that I couldn't shift; and then just a few days before the race I developed a calf niggle that persisted, too. I was a more than a little apprehensive, and was honestly not sure whether or not I'd make it round the full course. And then there was the weather...!

I had been keeping an eye on the forecast since mid September - gradually paying more attention to it as we got closer to marathon day. Ideal conditions for the run would have been a mild temperature with no wind or rain; the screenshot above shows what was on display as I woke on 4th October! I simply had to face facts: a quick glance through the window confirmed that we were in for a blustery, wet day. I had run in worse conditions over the winter period, including Storms Ciarra, Dennis and Jorge back in February, but the full distance - at rather less than top form - would be different. Hey ho.

After a somewhat restless night, I was up early for a breakfast of cereal, toast, juice and tea. I then had to finalise what exactly I wanted to carry with me, and what I thought I might need out on the course. I also needed to decide pretty quickly what to wear: whilst I had diligently pinned my race number on my Feba shirt several days in advance, I hadn't made a final decision about my shorts, socks or shoes! 

It was great that my wife and younger son were able to support me by travelling along the route by car with my chosen refreshments. We mapped out carefully a series of convenient rendezvous points, at which I would swig from a water bottle and pick up something to eat, from a selection of jelly babies / flapjack / banana / Marmite sandwich. It is strange how your appetite can change so quickly during a run, but it's also disconcerting how your mind can be telling you loud and clear that you need fuel and yet your stomach is really not receptive to the idea! I had made my own flapjack with almonds, pumpkin and chia seeds, cranberries, apricots, dates, maple syrup and various other goodies, but even that was sometimes hard to swallow.

Food and drink during a marathon run are so important, but the encouragement of family and friends makes such a difference. An unexpected bonus for this run was that my younger brother decided just days beforehand that he would come down and accompany me. It was real treat to have someone to chivy me along when the going got tough - as it undoubtedly did!

We set off from Rustington seafront just a few minutes after 9.00am, after a false start due to technical issues with the dedicated London Marathon app (which I had to use to record my official participation and finishing time). From the very start, I could feel that my calf was not right, but it was bearable. We trotted through the first few kilometres getting into our stride - into the wind as we headed towards the mouth of the River Arun (- my start/finish point for April's marathon), and then inland up towards Wick. I spotted the first of a couple of colleagues just before the 9km mark, shortly before grabbing refreshments from our 'support crew' standing in a layby, and carried on towards Angmering... which is when it began to hurt more: there was a short, steady incline over a railway bridge, but for some reason my calf issue was really aggravated and I was seriously concerned that I might not be able to complete the remaining 33km.

The 12km meeting point was at the foot of a hill in Angmering (close to our church), which I walked up - still painful. The course levelled off again as we rejoined the main road towards Goring. We were amused to spot a discarded walking stick lying on the pavement by a bus stop, and joked about possibly needing it before too much longer! Shortly after that, whilst breaking a banana to share, I managed to drop a chunk of it on the floor; seeing such valuable 'fuel' go to waste was frustrating, but reminded us both of how thankful we were for having planned the regular rendezvous points for replenishment from my wife and son.

It was real shame my elder son couldn't join us for any part of the day due to a Duke of Edinburgh expedition up in the South Downs, but my course took us past the running track where he trains regularly. He's much faster than me, and it won't be too long before he's able to take on the longer distances too.

From Durrington, we made our way through West Worthing towards the centre of town and then turned north to pass Feba's current office building - Skywaves House. In Broadwater, we started to head south east and made our way back down to the coast - pretty much on the edge of Lancing. This was a much-anticipated point in the course as it essentially marked a key turn for us: from now on, we'd be 'heading home' insomuch that we were basically making our way west again until we reached the finish. We were therefore delighted to spot the sea at the end of the road, but then...

...it hit us immediately - as soon as we turned the corner: oh my goodness, the weather! We had of course been aware of it earlier, but not faced it directly in such an exposed location. Dressed in shorts and a T shirt, already tired having covered almost 26km, the rain stung as it was blown into our faces! With pedestrians pulling their warm, waterproof coats around them tightly as they scurried along the prom, we battled to make sensible headway - interspersing bursts of gentle running with stretches at walking pace. I knew we had 7km in these punishing conditions to cover before we'd reach Goring and head back inland, so wanted to make sure that we conserved some energy; we'd then still have a further 10km to go once we finished this coastal stretch.

Aside from seeing family and friends, the occasional clapping, cheering, and 'toot toot' from total strangers were a real boost too! It was also heartening to see several other runners braving the elements to complete their own marathon courses - each identifiable by their distinctive race numbers pinned on their shirt. We saw one chap heading in the same direction as we were, walking steadily due to a knee injury earlier in his race; we saw another in an Elvis costume, complete with wig and sunglasses!

A short loop around Worthing Pier seemed a good idea when I was planning it - perhaps an opportunity for a 'nice scenic photo', I thought; in the event, it was probably the most exposed stretch of the whole course as we faced the full force of the wind and rain side-on. Unbeknownst to me, a colleague captured a very telling snap that tells its own unflattering story.

Heading back through Goring, I started to really feel that my feet were wet. My chosen shoe/sock combination hadn't been at all problematic until that point, but I started to think about changing into something softer and drier. Whilst it was tempting, I decided to stick with what I was wearing: there were spares in the car, but it somehow seemed contrary to the spirit of the marathon to make any such switch part way through.

Turning onto the A259 meant we were on the 'home straight', with just 7km to go. Spotting that the banana we had dropped earlier still lay untouched on the pavement made us chuckle! The walking stick was still there, too, and this time I really was quite sorely tempted to avail myself of it! I was soon distracted when a friend from church drove past, and she then pulled over, got out, and proceeded to run with us for a short stretch; it was such a kind gesture.

We crossed the railway bridge which had marked the start of my calf pain on the outbound leg. I was determined to be able to run through the centre of Rustington, past the war memorial, and down to the finish line on the seafront. Pressing on towards the village, I was relieved to get this far and felt reasonably confident that I had sufficient energy left to be able to keep going at something close to a respectable pace rather than having to resort to a disheveled shuffle.

And there it was - at the end of the road ahead of us: the sewerage pipe that marked our finish line! My brother and I quickened our pace slightly, and my wife and son joined alongside us for those final few metres as we neared the beach. Turning east again under the pipe, we instantly had the wind on our backs - and spectacular, dramatic seas on our right - as we kept going and checked our watches just to make sure that we had in fact completed the required marathon distance...

...and then we stopped! My official finishing time was 4:56:45

To say that it was 'a relief' is a gross understatement. It had been pretty tough for most of the way round, and certainly felt harder going than my previous marathon on the original date in April. It was actually the first time my brother had completed the distance in a single stretch, so a real treat to have been able to do it together with him in this way. The unfailing support from my wife and sons - in the months of preparation and on the day itself - was invaluable, and I could not have done it without them. And the support from friends and colleagues was tremendous too - whether their kind words, prayers, or sponsorship. So, I'd like to say an enormous 'THANK YOU!' to everyone who helped make it possible and so special.

Would I do it again? Well - the short answer is 'Yes!'. In fact, I'm likely to be doing it next October when the London Marathon should be back on its usual course on the streets of the capital, as all previously registered 2020 participants have opportunity to roll their places forward. It has certainly been a huge personal challenge to get fit enough to run two marathons in 2020, and I'm not taking next year's lightly, but I reckon that to run past some of those iconic landmarks would be very special - don't you?

Well - if you're interested, then the public ballot for places in the London Marathon 2021 is open until 17:00 on Friday 9th October. Why not give it a go?! If you secure a place and would like to fundraise for Feba then we'd love to hear from you - and I might even see you there!

But - for now - I'm having a few days without running.

If you would still like to sponsor me, please see my fundraising page.

To read more about my marathon efforts through the year, please click here.

Thank you!

Photo / video credits: Flapjack © Bob Chambers; Pier Pain © Sheila Leech; Blustery Beach © Rachel Chambers