10 Seconds Can’t Take My Happiness Away – The London Marathon Experience

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I planned to run the London Marathon aiming to raise $2620 for the Worldwide Cancer Research and a couple of months into the fundraising, my dear friend Rajnish joined me. Apart from Delhi, London is the only city where I have lived and getting a chance to run in that city was a dream come true.

When I signed up with dear friend and coach Nivi for the marathon training (for the 3rd time!), she asked about my goal and my answer was to finish strong without any injuries (during the training block or the race), enjoy the beautiful course and have a lot of fun. Oh and a PR 😉


This writeup is a journal to walk you through the race day experience.

I have divided this into 

Route and crowd support

Race strategy

Quick tips/ suggestions specific to the London Marathon

Route and crowd support

Strava link of the route

The highlight of the marathon (apart from the 4 important London milestones that I’ll highlight later) was the crowd support. Majority of the route is through residential localities in East London like Woolwich, Greenwich, Bermondsey, Isle of Dogs, Poplar, Wapping. Most of those roads were packed with people on both sides with sounds of “Go go go..”. Compared with this, Berlin has relatively more “touristy” course and takes you through some of the iconic neighbourhoods, squares and monuments. 

The start was really well managed through 3 starting points (red, green and blue) and 5-6 waves within each. Thanks to that the start wasn’t as crowded as some of the other big marathons – not much pushing and swerving was needed to reach the target pace. The red, blue and green starts come together somewhere between the 4-5K mark.

The first highlight was Cutty Sark at around the 10 KM mark. (Some bit of history – it’s the historic clipper ship, that was built in Scotland in 1869. It was the fastest of its time and is now one of the major London attractions). The atmosphere there was electric – the roads were relatively narrow hence the cheer was even louder. 

Cutty Sark (Find me! 🙂

Next was the poster landmark of London, the Tower Bridge at around KM 19! Slight incline but the crowd support really doesn’t let you feel that. 

Fun fact: Most tourists confuse this with the London Bridge, which is the adjacent river crossing and Tower Bridge has never fallen down.

Tower Bridge

Around the 30/ 31K mark, you cross Canary Wharf. Running through these streets lined by some of the tallest buildings in London is quite a feeling (don’t forget to look up when you are here).

Fun Fact: Canary Wharf is the most densely populated place in the whole of UK and as of 2021 March data, it supports 400K jobs.

Finally turning right from the Embankment (running along the Thames – the river is not visible though for most of the stretch), you see Westminster’s Abbey and the Big Ben. Massive crowds to support you for the last mile. Time for the final push.

Find me in the picture below 🙂

Big Ben and Westminster’s Abbey

Race Strategy

Negative splits in big races gives me a massive kick and that was the plan. This strategy also helps me enjoy the course for two-thirds of the course before starting to calculate distance left vs time left to target vs gas left in me. It had to be the same strategy for London, the city where I have lived almost 3 years and have memories from a number of sections of the course. 

The target was to run a sub 3:45 (@ pace 5:20) and if things go really well, then try for a sub 3:40 (@pace 5:13).

I ran the first half in a super easy and relaxed. Overheard a 5 time sub 3-hour marathoner in the tube mention that first 4k should be 5-10s slower than target pace (that’s where there are some decline and runners end up getting excited and tiring themselves up very early in the race).

5K – 15K was my slowest @ 5:25 average pace.

At 15K, I started to realise that 3:40 finish doesn’t look in sight but 3:45 total looks doable. 

21.097 done just shy of 1:53.

Calculation was easy – I need to do next half at 1:52.

The happiness I was getting running a comfortable and enjoyable run was starting to overtake the competitiveness and grit to achieve the 3:45 target. Added to that the sun came out really strong and almost no shade from ~30-35K (and this is around 1PM). 

London Marathon – Happy and Enjoying!

Crossed 35 KM mark done in 3:07:34.

7.2K to go in 37:25 (Target pace needed 5:12 per KM).

No “wall” in sight yet and that’s when I decided to up the gear and try for 3:45.

The crowds after getting back to the embankment side of Tower Bridge and seeing the Adidas Runners Cheer group at KM 37 made it acceleration slightly easier. 

As I turned right in front of the Westminster Abbey with around 2K to go, I started to feel weird in the right calf. Getting a cramp at that point would have been the worst so slowed down pace by 5-10 s. I had a feeling I will still going to make it for 3:45 but wasn’t sure – Amidst all the crowd, I missed seeing the 41K marker and my Garmin was ~400-500m ahead, so wasn’t really sure how much distance is still left.

Finally saw the “400 m to go” sign at the entry to the mall. Quick peek at the Buckingham palace on the left and went for the final sprint – calf or no calf.

Strong finish but missed target by 10 seconds.

So what? Ran with a personal best time improving by 11 minutes and a negative split finish.

Official time: 3:45:09

10 meters from the finish line!

Ecstatic with the experience but there was a lot to learn; things that only the race day can teach you. One can’t really train for this.


Quick 5 tips for the ones planning the London Marathon

  1. Race starts from Greenwich/ Blackheath area and ends close to the Buckingham palace. Accommodation prices are generally cheaper close to the start. You can even pick something in between, like Canary Wharf that is close to the Excel London bib expo. In any case, connections are pretty good and race starts at 9:30 so you will have plenty of time in the morning to reach the start line.
  2. Go 5-10s slower than target pace first 4k – there are declines but you’re just warming up!
  3. Try and follow the blue line throughout the course. This is specially important for London because there are parts where a 2 lane road might suddenly change to 1 and runners might need to course correct
  4. If rain is forecasted (it’s London!), carry a light jacket that you can dispose off at the start line. There are designated bins from where they are donated to charities.
  5. The course has some rolling hills and an underpass but most of them are easy. Just keep a few rolling hills as a part of the last few long runs in the training block
  6. If you really want to run this race and didn’t get through ballot, try the charity route. There are lots of charities across a number of social causes. Do ensure the cause really means something to you. 


  1. Woohoo!! what fun!! Love the pics. Were they part of the race experience package? BTW, London Bridge has fallen was the code for Queen’s funeral, so technically it has fallen 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *