Capital punishment

For his debut 26.2-miler, assistant ed Isaac Williams takes on the little-known Virgin Money London Marathon – and finds that it’s quite a long way to run

London Marathon

A battered Isaac at the finish

Thousands of feet drum the tarmac. Screams and cheers numb the senses: a cacophony of deafening noise, a wall of sound. “Don’t get carried away,” they said. “Pace yourself.” But they don’t understand. They don’t know how it feels. So what if it’s mile two? So what if I’ve got no prior marathon experience and the last few weeks of training have been hampered by a variety of actual and imagined ailments? In the immortal words of Steve Prefontaine: “The only good pace is suicide pace, and today is a good day to die.”

13 miles later…

“Oh fuck,” I inwardly curse – as the sign for mile 15 looms large above the concrete jungle that is the Isle of Dogs – “11 miles to go.” My race has, until this point, been going well. The incredible, overwhelming, support around Cutty Sark (mile five), Rotherhithe (mile 10) and Tower Bridge (mile 13) saw me reach halfway one minute outside of my half-marathon PB – and my ambitious pre-race target of 3:30 (particularly lofty given my dodgy knee which, pre-race, I’d made everyone in the western world aware of) was becoming, dare I think it, achievable. But a lot can change in the space of two miles. And marathons, as I’m about to find out, are really bloody hard.

The following three miles are an exercise in self-deception. Desperately in need of a boost, I convince myself, firstly, that my name is Scott – and cling on to a man of the same name, who’s showered in cheers at every turn. Secondly, I tell myself this is in fact a 20-mile race. “Get to 20,” I desperately plead to my rapidly deteriorating body, “and you’re pretty much done. Just 10K to go after that – you do that all the time!” I get to 20. There’s still TEN KILOMETRES to go.

Self-deception turns to a downward spiral of self-bargaining: “One more mile and you can walk; half a mile and you can walk; please walk.” And yet, somehow, the shuffle relents – past Monument, Temple and Blackfriars – until, at long last, I’m providing the good people of Westminster with a masterclass in how not to run.

‘1K to go’, reads a sign, followed by ‘600m to the finish’. And then I’m stumbling up to the iconic red arch – the digital clock displaying the numbers ‘3:27:36’. A smile begins to crack, my eyes glaze over slightly (must be the wind) and, in the bewildering logic of a runner, it all seems worth it.

Isaac ran the Virgin Money London Marathon for Cancer Research UK to help raise vital funds to beat cancer sooner. For more information on joining or supporting Cancer Research UK’s 2017 London Marathon team, visit


Isaac Williams

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