With the London Marathon just a few days away, people all over the country are gearing themselves up for what most consider their greatest physical achievement.
Having run the London Marathon in both 2010 and 2015, I know what it takes in training to get yourself in the best possible condition to achieve the time you're after. Both years, I spent the 4 months in the build up pounding the streets on the cold, dark evenings leading up to it. You slowly increase your mileage, add in some interval training to mix it up and you feel you're in relatively good shape.
Then comes the tapering period where it feels like you're putting your feet up and taking things a little for granted. But this is so important before a big race. Your body should be in a place where you've trained it to be able to cope with what's ahead and those couple of weeks are important for you to take it easy.
In the final week the nerves starting making themselves known. The London Marathon start their usual countdown of how many days until the start, which pops up on all of your social media feeds as a constant reminder! You have to think about getting your kit ready - shoes complete with timing chip neatly attached. T-shirt with space for your number so when you attach it you can read your name that you've had added. Shorts and socks that you've run in numerous times to avoid any chafing on the day. Then you lay it all out and take a photo to prove you've got all the gear ready!
I love the Expo. Collecting your number at the start makes the whole event so real. You're handed your race pack and you know there's no turning back. Then, for the next few hours, you wander around the various stands which contain everything from the latest high tech running shoes, to companies organising trail running in foreign countries. For a while, you forget what's ahead of you come Sunday morning and you feel like a kid in a sweet shop with so much running paraphernalia to gaze at.
Saturday is all about getting the right food in you, drinking plenty to keep you hydrated and getting your head down for a good nights sleep. Easier said than done!
On the day itself, the atmosphere is electric. From travelling into London, whether it's by train, car, tube or bus, you start to spot other runners with their chips on their trainers and kit bag under their arm. You start to notice nervous faces with their loved ones who are heading up to watch and this is when you start to realise what a special event you're about to take part in.
Gathering in Greenwich is a great feeling. Thousands of runners all kitted out, some in hilarious fancy dress outfits, others in their most tried and tested running gear but all with the same, nervous feeling of wanting to get the race under way.
You drop your kit bag off, say goodbye to those with you, and then head to your starting area. Trying to stay warm was difficult. With so many packed in around you, it was near on impossible to do your star jumps but stretching was just about manageable.
Then the countdown begins and you're off!
It might take a while to actually get over the start line due to the sheer volume of runners, but once you cross it you're soon gathering pace. From the start to mile 6, you're really trying to get in to your rhythm. The different coloured starts merge, you run from Blackheath, down into Woolwich and then back towards Greenwich. I loved running into Greenwich. The streets were packed with spectators cheering you on. Running around Cutty Sark was a highlight that I remembered from watching as a kid and then off in to Deptford.
From mile 6, you're trying to keep to that pace that you set in training. You have to try and ignore those running past you and ignore the urge to stay with them because you feel fresh.
Tower Bridge at 12 and a half miles is one of my favourite parts of the course. My first marathon it was a blur. I vaguely remember staring up at the towers, but afterwards I couldn't recall it due to not pacing myself properly. Second time round in 2015, I took my time on the approach and loved it. Tower Bridge is another one of the iconic images of the run from years gone by. On each side, there are dozen of people cheering you on, many charities have cheer points here and you always spot the BBC doing live interviews with people in weird and wonderful outfits.
Miles 15 to 20 then take you through the financial heart of the city as you wind in between the huge office towers in Canary Wharf. I remember the approach struck me as so noisy the first time I ran. The sound of the supporters clapping and cheering seems to bounce off of the buildings and was amplified to deafening levels. The support here was incredible as well. More than 3 or 4 deep for the full five miles as it snakes around the water really keeps you going and drives you continuously to put one foot in front of the other.
The final 3 and a half miles along Embankment were tough. After a burst of energy 2010 I had my quickest mile at mile 22 and then found the final 1.2 miles hell! People always talk about 'The Wall'. What was it? What did it feel like? Well for me it was like running through treacle! After cruising miles 20, 21, 22 and 23, the rest felt like they took an age.
The final 1.2 miles were my slowest. The run up to Big Ben was more than a drag. I remember feeling like I had spent all of my energy and I really wanted to sit down, but spotting my Fiancee in the crowd a mile out really spurred me on and I found the energy to keep going. Each turn around a corner of St James Park got me that little bit closer to the finish line. Buckingham Palace then appeared and before I knew it I was turning into The Mall and the finish was in sight. The Finish!
Crossing the line was emotional. I'd run a time of 4h 15m which was bang on what I was aiming for and I was so happy, yet so tired. I plodded my way over to a man who placed the medal over my head and it was mine. I'd earned that!
What a feeling. The fact I'd run the full 26.2 miles, spotted friends and family at no more than 5 parts of the course and been cheered on by complete strangers, had pushed me to achieve what I'de set out to. The run in 2015 was so much more enjoyable as I trained harder, but made sure I took more in of the sights and sounds on the course.
I'm not running this year and I'm enormously envious of you runners taking part. All I can say is try and enjoy the occasion. Don't worry if you don't get the time you're after. Don't be disappointed if you have walk for parts of it. Do try and take in as much of the day as possible and interact with those around you.
One thing I can guarantee is you'll swear you'll never run a marathon come the end of the race - but you'll sign up for another come Monday!
Good luck to everyone running and I hope you enjoy the day.