A Saffa’s London Marathon Experience


It’s late October 2023, I’m having a post-run coffee on a beautiful Cape Town morning when I receive a call from New Balance asking if I’d be interested in running the London Marathon for the brand. “Um, let me check my diary”, a second later, “Yes of course I would!”, is my enthusiastic answer.

And just like that, I have a golden ticket entry into one of the most sought-after World Marathon Majors. My running journey since 2022 has provided some truly exceptional experiences, and here is another planned for April 2024. I had just completed the Cape Town marathon, and my training was in a good place, making the London Marathon an “a goal” race in five months.

Disaster strikes
A month later, seemingly out of the blue, I start developing Achilles tendonitis on my right leg. I know I must stop running training, get treatment and start rehab as soon as possible to have any chance of getting healthy and ready for London. Thanks to my coach and medical team, we’re onto a plan of action. The ultrasound scan shows tendon damage but fortunately no tears. As we roll into January 2024, my new routine is cross-training on an indoor bike to keep my fitness base, and a series of daily rehab exercises and careful tendon loading to build back its integrity and endurance.

Passing Buckingham Palace, I take the last right-hand bend into the Mall and realise the enormity of the opportunity I have been given…

By this point, I haven’t run for over 10 weeks! But, with the support of friends, family and my professional team, I know the comeback is on. I just have to be patient and continue putting in the work. Seven weeks out from London, I can start running very slowly on an anti-gravity treadmill to reduce my mass load – 50% to start with. I see quick recovery due to my diligent diet, rehab, strength work and the use of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to promote injury healing.

Back on track
Five weeks out and I’m back on the road training; my legs feel like a newborn gazelle’s. I have little time to build up to full marathon training, but I’m starting on a fit base. I’m just grateful to be healthy and back doing what I love most: RUNNING! I must thank my coach, physios, doctor and most importantly my wife for helping me through this tough time. In the meantime, the New Balance team arranges all my travel logistics and kits me out in some awesome lifestyle, training and racing gear.

Fuelcell SC Elite v4
I’m fortunate to be one of the first to receive the unreleased Fuelcell SC Elite v4, New Balance’s new premium race shoe. Wow, they fit me great and the new 100% PEBA midsole now has the punch and responsiveness to match any other super shoe on the market. I have just enough time to get familiar with my new race shoe and get my race pace dialled in.

London bound
Before I know it, it’s time to travel. I arrive in London on Thursday and immediately meet up with the New Balance global team who have arranged events and social runs to start the marathon weekend hype. I visit the race expo to collect my bib and check out the exclusive London Marathon branded apparel. I must have a jacket and T-shirt as a souvenir of the occasion. The race expo is enormous and full of impressive activations and retail stalls. Even though more than 100 000 people pass through the doors, it never feels too packed. Now the excitement is building and the race day nerves are getting real.

Race day prep
It’s the night before. I go through my pre-race rituals: kit check, fuel prep, hydration and a hearty dinner of pasta. Due to the cool weather conditions in Europe, races don’t start as early as we’re used to here in SA. I get a full night’s sleep (I’ve never struggled to sleep), wake up at 6am, kit up, pack my backpack with what I’ll need pre and post-race and have a leisurely hotel breakfast. As I walk down to the local train station to head towards Greenwich Park, the London marathon starting location, the vibes begin. The runners’ numbers swell, and soon I’m in a sea of excitement and nerves. There are 50 000 entrants, all with different expectations for the day. I see all sorts, young, old, elites and many dressed in fancy costumes ready to tackle 42.2km for their charitable cause.

The gun goes
Organisation on the day is impressive. I’m in the yellow start, wave 1, meaning I start at 10am, the same time as the elite field. This is helpful as I have a goal of sub-3 hours, and not getting caught up behind running traffic makes for a safer, easier and faster race experience. At my best, I’m a 2:40 marathoner but, due to my recent injury, late recovery and relative lack of running training, all I could reasonably hope for was a time under three hours. The weather is perfect. It’s cool, with some cloud cover, no wind, and ideal race conditions. The gun goes and we set off. The first 5km is net downhill and known to have many zooming off too fast. Not a good strategy as I have learnt, and many have warned me. I was happy to sit at a comfortable 4:10/km pace and take in the crowd support and energy, which is immense. The residents of London line the streets and cheer on strangers and friends alike, making the route feel like one big party. The first 15km goes by in a flash. I’m feeling good, I pick up the pace, knowing my aerobic fitness and strength will count in my favour today.

Marathons are hard
You learn something new from each marathon, no matter how experienced you are. My strategy is to always start conservatively and build the pace progressively, hopefully leaving enough for a strong finish. A pivotal aspect of marathon running is getting your fueling right. I consume 90g of carbs per hour from sports gels, something I’ve practised in training and learnt works for me. I get my fueling and water intake right on the day, which helps me make a consistent effort throughout the race. I’m confident in my race kit and New Balance SC Elite v4 shoes, which are superb. This gives me peace of mind and allows me to focus solely on my running. I was told not to trust GPS on certain parts of the route where watches are known to provide inaccurate split times. So, I focus on a consistent effort and soak up the race vibes and crowd support.

Finish line within sight
I know I’ve run a consistently paced race and I am comfortably under my 3-hour target, so I ease up the pace in the last 2kms. I focus on being present and soaking in all the sights and sounds. Passing Buckingham Palace, I take the last right-hand bend into the Mall and realise the enormity of the opportunity I have been given by New Balance. I cross the finish line, 2:55:44. My first marathon major done. I’m elated––a solid run given the trials of the past few months. Greats have passed this same finish line. Kelvin Kiptum, a year ago, who set a new course record and third fastest marathon time ever of 2:01:25. Peres Jepchirchir today, who set the women’s only world record of 2:16:16. I’m proud to have completed the race, along with many friends and fellow runners, and receive my London Marathon medal.


 A memorable running experience
Crossing Tower Bridge and running around Cutty Sark are moments I’ll never forget. With the backdrop of these iconic landmarks, you can’t help but wear the biggest grin as you get pulled through what feels like a stadium of supporters cheering you on. This was the main theme of the entire race and a highlight of everyone’s day.

Thank you
My London Marathon experience was made possible by the team at New Balance South Africa. The brand has supported my running journey from almost day one and allowed me to “Run Your Way”. Thank you New Balance.

Remind yourself why you run
Running is a beautiful activity. Yes, it sometimes feels hard, early morning wake ups that are lonely, dark and cold, you get injured, friends tire of your constant running talk, you miss some quality family time, you have bad days when you doubt yourself… But we all have that one reason we do it, the endorphin boost you get, the friends you make, the mental health it provides, the satisfaction of achieving big goals. Yes, it’s what keeps us coming back for more, here’s to everyone who chooses to run!

Wishing you all many more happy miles.

Geoffrey Crow (@lets_run_faster)

READ MORE ON: race report World Marathon Majors

Copyright © 2024 Hearst