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"The London Marathon is Nothing Like What You Think it's Going To Be - It's Better."

Paul McGrath, Head of our Accounting Team, took part in the London Marathon last weekend, running 26.2 miles to the finish line to raise money for Once Upon A Smile. The day was full of cheering crowds, determined runners, and an atmosphere of support and connection.

The London Marathon is one of the most coveted running events in the UK. Every year, thousands apply to be part of the event, with more than 40,000 people jogging through the streets on the day. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 marathon had been delayed by over a year and a half after the initial date, however a final date was pencilled in for the 3rd of October 2021.

The date finally arrived last Sunday, and so Paul donned his running gear and headed to London to take part in the event.

Paul said: " The day is nothing like you think it's going to be, it's so much better and I loved all of it. It was a really special experience, with support coming from everywhere; the crowds, the runners, and the locals."

Mindful of Covid safe measures and to avoid large crowds, runners were split up into groups and released on a staggered timescale. Paul travelled to Blackheath in South East London on Sunday morning where his group was due to start.

"It's a 20-minute train journey to Blackheath, and it made me realise just how far I was going to go. I was nervous, but as we got closer to the event I met people who were also running, and chatting with them really settled my nerves."

Paul started the race around 10.30 am, which led him to run further out from London, before turning back and heading into the centre of the city, passing sights like Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, The Shard, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and traversing through underpasses and on main roads.

"The atmosphere was amazing. There wasn't a single part of the route not covered with crowds. Everyone was cheering you on, shouting your name, kids wanted to high-five you as you passed and people were passing out sweets to give you some energy."

Photos: Paul before the race, runners going over Tower Bridge (image credit: Virgin Money), Paul after completing the marathon.

The feelings were similar among the runners, Paul says, with many motivating others who were struggling to continue and helping them along.

"It's a long way to go. I started to struggle at around mile 17-18, and I think I was worried about the next 8 miles I needed to do. It was the crowd that kept me motivated, and also knowing what I was doing for my charity. The struggle of the marathon was nothing compared to the hard work they do every day."

Many people run the London Marathon to raise money for a charity of their choosing, often due to their own experience with being supported by the organisation. Paul had dedicated his run to Once Upon A Smile, a charity focused on providing long-term bereavement support to children and their families who have suffered the loss of a loved one. The charity is close to Paul’s heart, as he has personally seen the after-effects of losing a loved one at a young age.

"You got to connect with so many people around you, and hear why they were running. Most people in my start area were running for charities and so many people had stories about it. It was really emotional.

"From what we’ve gone through recently with the pandemic, it was actually nice to be close to people. We had to do covid tests beforehand, but on the day if you were struggling, someone giving you a pat on the back meant a lot and kept you going."

Near the end of the race at 25 miles, the London Eye and Big Ben came into view. The final stretch of the marathon herds runners close to Buckingham Palace and to the finish line.

"When I saw the finish line I thought, I’m actually going to finish this, and then, how amazing it was to have been able to raise funds and do this for Once Upon a Smile. It's really emotional when you cross the finish line, everyone is high-fiving and congratulating you. It was an amazing experience."

Two days later Paul is recovering from sore legs and a broken toe from when a runner accidentally caused him to stumble into the barrier - but this hasn't deterred him from signing up to the 2022 London Marathon ballot for next year.

"People say, you don't do the London Marathon for your personal best time, you do it for the experience. I really hope I can go again next year and I would recommend anyone to go and experience the day."

We're really proud of Paul and his determination and effort, even more when we discovered he has raised a huge amount of £1,837.00 for Once Upon a Smile to help children and their families. You can still support Paul by donating via his fundraising page here.

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