A firsthand account of running for a cause, one starting line at a time.

Nicole Schepers at the London Marathon.

I can’t believe it. I’m here. I’m running the London Marathon. This is happening.

It’s 11:19 a.m., and I’m at the blue starting line. I hear the man over the speaker say, “3, 2, 1, see ya later! Have fun!” The crowd is yelling in thick English and Scottish accents through the humid air, “Enjoy your race!” I’m trying to keep myself under control. The adrenaline is pumping, and my emotions are high. A million things are running through my head, but I just have to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

“A million things are running through my head, but I just have to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.”

Early in the race, I was just focused on my feet. I noticed some pain in my legs. There it was, the physical aches of being in a car accident three weeks before. Luckily, it wasn’t too overwhelming, so I continued on. It rained for many of the early miles, but the crowd was still large. Volunteers did an incredible job keeping the energy high for us soggy runners. I started in Blackheath, a little town on the southeast side of London. As we ran through the normally quiet streets, locals cheered us on as we journeyed past. The volunteers stood near the speed bumps yelling, “humps ahead!” We were told the early going of the race where our group started was hilly. However, training in Jefferson City, hills are no stranger to me. I thought maybe these bumps were the hilly portion of the race they were all concerned with and shared some laughs about the hills with fellow runners, which kept my mind from the pain that I was really starting to notice. Around mile 5, the rain stopped. I was soggy, but not too bad, all things considered. I escaped with dry feet until I managed to hit a puddle. Nothing like running a marathon with wet feet.

Regardless, I forge through Cutty Sark. Humidity gets a little thicker, the temp seems a little warmer, and the puddles seem to get a little bigger and more frequent. At times, it was almost like I was playing frogger with puddles. Runners are seeing family and friends, stopping for pictures and runners in costumes start to appear a little more. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know that I could pull off running 26.2 miles in a costume! One of the most popular costumes seemed to be the rhinos, who were telling the world around them to, “Stay horny.” Every time I saw them, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Cutty Sark is also right about the 10-kilometer mark, meaning I still had 20 miles to go. Even though I’m noticing more pain in my legs, I’ve also started to settle into my pace. I see my husband, Andy, and our friends Ben and Carrie, giving them a smile and wave.

Runners at the London Marathon.
Runners at the London Marathon.

Coming up on Tower Bridge meant I was getting really close to the halfway point. Before I started the race, we decided I should try to stay to the left side of the road to the best of my ability to make it easier to find my friends and family. The crowd at Tower Bridge was huge, packing both sides of the road. I wasn’t totally sure I’d see my crew. The crowd was so loud I could barely hear the music in my headphones. But then, I heard a familiar voice yelling my name. It was Andy with Ben and Carrie in the front row. For me, it was an ecstatic moment. I needed them more than they knew at this point. This time, I gave them a hug and stretched out before I continued on my journey.

The marathon is quite a big deal in London. There isn’t a spot on the route where there aren’t spectators. In areas like Tower Bridge, the crowd was 13-14 deep of enthused locals. I loved seeing kids out there with their families cheering on total strangers and holding encouraging signs. A common one said, “Power up, hit here” with a big Mario mushroom on the sign. I always thought I was gaining an extra life when I saw these signs. At this point, the crowd is my life line. I walk a mile, run a mile. The pain is nearly unbearable at this point. My legs feel like lead, but I couldn’t help but smile and laugh as I saw a sign that said, “Come the heck on,” but in more explicit terms, if you catch my drift.

The crowd continued to build as I got close to Canary Wharf, the busiest area of the race and located in the heart of London. They stopped the train traffic to Canary Wharf because it was so busy. Even though my team couldn’t make it there, I managed to hear my name come from my right. I looked up to see it was Paca, our team captain. She was my saving grace. I was in so much pain at this time and contemplating pulling out of the race. She provided me with some ibuprofen, encouraging words, a big smile, and an even bigger hug. She then said to me, “See you at the finish.” I was reminded of the letters that family and friends sent to me and of the mission, cause, and purpose I was running for. I reminded myself that the kids at St. Jude Hospital can’t take a break from their battles with cancer, so neither could I.

As the “Heart of a Champion” by Nelly song comes on for the third time, and the ibuprofen kicks in, it became a new race for me. I was coming up on Rainbow Row, which featured dancing, singing, crazy costumes, and tons of music from the animated crowd. My energy level was rising!

Runners at the London Marathon.

Heading into the race’s homestretch, I started to see some of the bigger landmarks such as the London Eye and Big Ben. I was almost there. My energy rose to a new level, and even though I had been struggling for several miles, I encouraged others. It felt so good to be that person! As runners neared the finish, the crowds got louder, thicker, and more excited. It’s really hard not to soak that energy up and let it push you to the end.

The last time I saw the crowd was somewhere in the 25-mile mark. As I neared the finish, the count down started: 600 meters to go, 400 meters to go, 385 meters to go. The streets were lined with the Union Jack, and it started to get real. The overwhelming emotion of joy and accomplishment filled my heart. Entering The Mall, a main road in central London, I could see Buckingham Palace, British Parliament, the fountains, and St. James Park. As the finish line appears straight ahead, the tears start to flow. When I cross the finish line, the only thing I want to do is stop my Garmin watch.

After claiming my gear I had dropped off before the race, I stumbled over to the park to meet my friends. Andy greets me with a hug, more water, and we pull a bag of jelly babies (the English version of gummy bears). I start to peel off the wet layers of soaked socks and shoes. All I wanted at this point was to have dry feet again.

“Heading into the race’s homestretch, I started to see some of the bigger landmarks such as the London Eye and Big Ben. I was almost there.”

Hearing from other runners after we crossed the finish line was simply incredible. There were 48,599 runners who finished the London Marathon this year. London is the world’s largest charity race and running on behalf of St. Jude Hospital was such an incredible honor. We had a small, but mighty, team of three runners that raised more than $185,000, and I am so proud to say that the Jefferson City community helped contribute $12,156. I couldn’t be more grateful.

My running journey started in 2014, after I received my endometriosis diagonals. When I started, it was to prove to myself that I could. I then found the St. Jude Hero’s program in 2017, which has allowed me to put purpose behind all these miles. Since I started running for St. Jude, this community has helped me raise over $30,000! But, my journey doesn’t stop here. I’ll be training for my next race soon so if you see me running, give me a honk or a wave to keep me going!