It was as if a switch flipped inside me giving my legs super powers when I crossed that 20 mile marker.
I rapidly picked up my running pace and zipped past hundreds of slow runners and walkers – 912 in fact, my stats later revealed.
As I zig-zagged through them, I thought “only 6.2 miles left to go” and the more people I overtook, the more my confidence grew.
Thousands of spectators roared at every point of the side-lines.
The atmosphere was electric.
I felt incredible and my legs were as strong as the moment I’d first stepped over the start line.
Before I knew it I was running down Victoria Embankment, alongside the River Thames, and turned onto The Mall, leading up to Buckingham Palace.
Union Jack flags lined either side of The Mall and I felt truly honoured to be running through them, along a road usually reserved for the Queen.
I approached a sign saying ‘600 Yards to Finish’ and I looked at my watch, which read just short of 4 hours 58 minutes.
I’d struggled between miles 15 to 20 and lost time then, but seeing how much I’d made up since passing mile 20 made me think only one thing: “There’s no way I’m finishing after 5 hours!”
I started sprinting.
Who knows where on earth I got the energy from but I was running flat out, past the 400 yard marker and through the finishing gates.
I looked at my watch: 4 hours 59 minutes. Yessssssss!
Grinning like a mad banshee, I took a quick selfie then walked over to the gate to receive my medal.
I bowed as a woman put the ribbon over my head, looked up and thanked her through the biggest smile I’ve ever worn and proudly walked off to find my friends, feeling like a champion.
The build up
London Marathon is the largest organised marathon in the UK and this year it was the biggest yet, with more than 39,000 people taking part.
Cheering spectators fill every space along all side-lines of the route, showing support to their family, friends and everyone else running.
People travel from far and wide to watch, residents watch from windows or balconies, and the whole thing is filmed and broadcast live on national television.
It’s a massive event and taking part in something like that has its own pressures, let alone the thought of running 26.2 miles.
When I arrived in London the reality of what I was about to do hit me.
I’d only run up to 16 miles in training and when I applied to take part, I’d placed myself in a fast group with a finishing time of 4 hours.
That was my original predicted finish time before shin splints knocked me back in training. I knew that finishing time was no longer possible.
I was worried my start group would push me to run too fast and anxious about how I would manage the extra ten miles.
I barely slept a wink that first night and then I was up early to register at the ExCeL London, in the east of the city, on Saturday morning.
The journey to the ExCeL was nearly identical to the trip I’d make to the marathon’s start line the next day and I was surprised to learn it took nearly two hours to get there.
When my friend Beth and I walked into the hall and saw all the registration desks separated into groups of running numbers, I realised the scale of the event I was about to take part in.
Excitedly I waited in line, signed my name on an official registration form and was handed my race number and kit bag.
There was a sports fair in the hall filled with stalls selling all the top running gear, charity representation and sports activities and competitions.
We watched a freerunning display, then moved onto another stage area and saw famous runners speaking about their experiences.
I even caught a glimpse of my favourite runner Paula Radcliffe as she offered advice on beating “The Wall”.
Then we spoke to people from Alzheimer Scotland who told me where to meet them after the race for a celebratory reception.
And with that it was time to go home and relax ahead of the big day (or in my case, stay up until midnight helping Beth make a cheering banner, applying kinesiology tape and laying out my clothes).
On Sunday morning my alarm buzzed at 6am and I dragged my sleepy self out of bed and into the bathroom.
The modern myth of runners jumping up on race day is exactly that – a myth. Early is early.
An hour later Beth and I were out the house, having fuelled up with porridge and coffee, and were enroute to the biggest physical challenge I have ever undertaken.
I sipped a sports drink on the first of three train rides while feeling surprisingly calm.
Yes I was nervous but more than anything I felt excited, perhaps blissfully unaware of what lay before me.
The sun shone as we headed to the start line in Greenwich Park, where runners were saying their farewells to family and friends.
I said bye to Beth – who began to make her way to mile 11 to cheer – and entered a restricted area for participants.
And with only half an hour until the race started at 10am, I searched for my truck to put my kit bag on.
Trucks are separated into batches corresponding to runners’ numbers and driven to the finish line to be picked up after the race.
Then I looked for the toilets (portaloos). When I found them I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Queues of at least 100 people for each batch of three or four portaloos.
Suddenly a Tannoy went off, announcing 15 minutes to start and asking runners to make their way to their starting area.
In a fluster, needing the toilet and without having warmed up, I rushed off to my starting area and was swiftly ushered in.
There was little space to stretch there due to the amount of people, but I managed to squeeze in 3 or 4 minutes of dynamic (moving) stretches at the back before moving into place.
As I stood surrounded by lots of very fit looking people I began to feel butterflies in my stomach.
We counted down from ten, let out a cheer, then walked to the official start line and began running at 10.12am.
I ran with the group for about 5 minutes at what felt like an easy pace, before remembering advice not to start too fast because it would cause early burn out or injury later on in the race.
My watch was reading ten minute miles which is the pace I was doing in training but, aware I needed to run an additional ten miles on top of what I had done in training, I dropped my pace to 10.30 minute miles.
Now, having done it, I know I would’ve managed ten minute miles fine, but at the time I didn’t want to risk not finishing.
It took a conscious effort to run at a slower pace than usual. I was continuously checking my watch to make sure I was sticking to it.
Just before the one mile mark I saw portaloos with NO QUEUE and jumped into one – a move which was definitely worth it.
For the next couple of miles I settled into the slower pace and around the three mile mark we merged with other runners who had started at the green and blue start points (I was at the red start point).
With that I began to spot all sorts of elaborate costumes.
A rhino ran alongside me and on his other side was a dame in a hooped skirt and long-haired wig.
The “Official Dinosaur”, I think it was a T-Rex, approached on the other side of the road and a man with a washing machine strapped to his back.
I also passed elderly Adam and Eve in revealing skin coloured swimsuits, with strategically placed leaves, and countless superheroes.
There were loads of team costumes with people attached to each other.
I saw Thomas the Tank Engine, then two Native Americans in a traditional wooden boat, then four firefighters in a fire engine, which got a great reaction from spectators.
In fact, crowds were cheering for all the runners.
Every step of the way the streets were lined with people making a day of the event, enjoying a drink or a barbecue.
Many stood handing out sweeties or slices of orange to runners and kids held out their hands for passing high fives.
In a flash I’d already done more than ten miles and was preparing to look for my friends Beth and Andrew at mile 11.
I glanced at my watch which read 1 hour 51 minutes and felt like I was making good time.
At mile 11 I saw a flag for Alzheimer’s Society (Alzheimer Scotland’s sister charity) and many people in their branded tops cheering and waving.
My eyes searched for my friends, but I couldn’t see them so I ran on feeling a little disappointed.
Andrew later said he was on the opposite side of the road and Beth was stood just before the charity’s flag.
Beth said saw me and said she screamed and waved her cheering banner as I passed, only to feel a little foolish when I didn’t see her. Andrew missed me completely.
Continuing my journey, I passed live DJs and bands.
The most entertaining was an African drum band, which got runners whooping as they energetically beat their drums under a tunnel.
Traditional brass bands, rock bands, and reggie groups also appeared along the route.
Then, without any prior notice, I turned a corner and was about to run over Tower Bridge.
The historic bridge has always been one of my favourite landmarks in London and when I looked at the route beforehand and realised I’d be running over it, I knew it was going to be a special moment.
Almost overwhelmed, I gasped when I saw it and quickly reached for my phone to take a couple of pictures.
As soon as I made it over the bridge I passed a halfway marker, 2 hours and 15 minutes after starting the race.
I couldn’t believe how quickly the first half had gone but I was starting to feel it in my legs.
The way the route was designed I could see people on the other side of the street coming towards me.
I knew they were approaching the 20 mile mark and to think of how far away I was from getting onto the other side of the road was disheartening.
At that point I’d only had two energy gels and about half a bottle of water.
My plan was to take a gel every five miles so I fought on until mile 15 when I took another one.
I also picked up a bottle of water and carried it with me until it was finished, taking small sips as needed.
And for the first time in the race, I walked a little. It was only a few yards but it made my legs feel so much better.
For the next five miles I switched between fast walking and running, trying not to lose too much speed, but my head just wasn’t in it.
That section of the race, around Canary Wharf area, is a bit of a blur.
The main thing I remember thinking then was that I might not be able to run much further and feeling really down about it.
Luckily I’d brought extra gels and started taking them every three miles which helped a lot.
Then as soon as I hit the 20 mile mark, everything changed.
I got a second wind. My legs felt fresh – as if I’d just stepped out the door to start a short run.
I picked up the pace and was running much faster than I had at any other point in the race.
From that moment onwards things couldn’t have gone any better.
My earphones were just over the top of my ears so I could hear my music but I could also hear the thousands of spectators cheering.
As I came out of a short tunnel I looked up at their bright, encouraging faces along both side-lines.
I overtook runner after runner, most of whom were walking by now and I felt stronger with every step.
Beth was at the 25 mile mark and later said she was expecting to give me a much needed cheer, but she nearly missed me as I zoomed past, in the process of overtaking.
It’s hard to describe how good I felt at that point – it was like no other run I’d done before.
I finished feeling stronger than ever and bobbed off to collect my bag as many others around me hobbled and moaned about “popped hamstrings” and “sore knees”.
To be honest I think I could’ve done it in a faster time if I’d ran at the pace I’d trained at and taken more gels earlier.
But I don’t regret a single decision I made during the race.
I ran over the finish line injury free, feeling strong, proud, happy and having thoroughly enjoyed my run – and to me, that’s what it’s all about.
As soon as I’d collected my belongings and passed through the restricted finishing area and into the public meet and greet area, I felt totally lost.
Thousands of people were squished into the space and I was glad I’d arranged to meet my friends at the charity’s reception, rather than relying on phoning as there was no signal.
I looked for the Alzheimer’s Society flag and someone from the organisation walked me to the building where the reception was being held.
Once inside I met Andrew, Beth and many others who had run for Alzheimer Scotland or Alzheimer’s Society.
Chatting with them, hearing their stories and realising I was part of such a large fundraising team added another dimension of achievement to completing the marathon.
Having run the London Marathon for charity, I now can’t imagine why anyone would choose not to do it for charity.
I’ve raised £2,331 for Alzheimer Scotland and that total is set to rise when GiftAid is included. My gran would be so proud if she realised what I’d done.
Knowing my participation in the marathon will help many people affected by dementia is much more meaningful to me than having run a “fast” time for nothing other than personal records.
Yes it’s given me the running bug – already I’m looking for another marathon to sign up for – but more importantly, it’s made me want to do more for charity.
I ran London Marathon 2016 to raise money for Alzheimer Scotland in aid of my gran who has dementia. You can still sponsor me. All donations, no matter the size, extremely welcome via my fundraising page: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SheanneMulholland
xxx THANK YOU!! xxx