You can read Jonathan’s marathon training journey via links further down – and support his chosen charity DEBRA, at this page.

It all started with a run for the train.

I didn’t even make it; what a fool. But in the 20-minute wait for the next service, the platform at Woking Station filled with runners destined for the world’s greatest race and there was a buzz in the air.

Following an announcement about reporting suspicious packages, one gentleman in drag – pink hair, curlers and exposed plastic bottom – held his phone aloft: “I’m texting them now!”

The journey into and across London – sans phone – was a period for introspection (and there was plenty more of that to come). Many of those headed for Blackheath station and the start line were also running their first marathon and were unsure of what to expect; several had also suffered injuries in training along the way.

From Blackheath to Tower Bridge

I went in wave 7 of the starters and the first few miles were amazing. The crowds – the defining memory of my marathon – were electric: it was like running on air. I ran on the side and every kid (and grown-up) who held out their hand got a high five – except the rascal who pulled his hand away!

I learned later that my best friend was concerned that I’d gone off too quickly with 8m30s miles (although I’m not sure the laughing emoji conveys much genuine worry…) but I genuinely couldn’t have run any more slowly. Looking at the elevation profile, it’s fairly downhill.

The first landmark – the Cutty Sark – was 10k in and I was there in what seemed a flash. Feeling the first bite in my quads, I lowered the pace a little for the six miles to Tower Bridge – where I’d been promised the experience of a lifetime by Nikki Chamberlain and Jason Taylor.

It seemed to take an age to arrive; but when it did, it did not disappoint. Turning right on to the bridge, there was a wall of noise – people screaming ‘Go on, Jon!’, a call to arms I heard hundreds of times during the race – and the grin permanently etched on to my mug up to the Cutty Sark was back!

London Marathon map

From Tower Bridge to Canary Wharf

Along the Shadwell stretch, we could see those who’d set off before us heading back from the east – 22 miles in – on the other side of the railing. I joked with someone about getting a leg-up over, but then remembered the chip in my bib would know I’d been naughty. There was no getting around it: it was 26.2 miles or bust.

The DEBRA butterfly skin charity supporters cheered me on further down then, in the crazy loop around the east – approaching Canary Wharf – I finally saw my brother-in-law. Two huge lifts in a few miles! My wife and kids had been unable to join me (our new family car has gone kaput), so it was down to my host for the weekend alone to support me. I’d missed him on the Shadwell stretch and it meant the world to see that grinning face. I was entering unknown territory: due to my ankle injury I’ve never run more than 16 miles before (although that was up and down moors).

I am sorry that this blog is turning out to be a timeline. Yet every runner, from winners Kelvin Kiptum and Sifan Hassan to the final gentleman who crossed the line (see below), embarks upon a journey – the preparation, the anticipation, the first miles and, sooner or later, the hard miles. The east loop, as I predicted the day before, was where I was forced to dig deep inside myself for inspiration.

From Canary Wharf to Buck House

Nikki said last week: “Before you run, think about why you are doing this, why it matters to you. And then save it – if things start to feel really tough, remind yourself of your ‘why’ and hang on to that until the finish!”

Never was a truer word spoken. The ‘why’ for me was my cousin Mark, lost to us these last 22 years; as soon as I won a place and was given the option of supporting a cause, it was always going to be EB charity DEBRA. Mark’s delicate skin would never have allowed him to run a marathon – so when I was running on air; gazing ahead at the looming Tower Bridge; and grinning happily with every ‘Go on, Jon!’, I’d tell him: “Look at this, Marky. Can you believe it?”

London Marathon Week 11: The boy with butterfly skin

When it got darker – and I don’t mean in the underpass where the drummers deafened us all – he was there again. I’ll leave it at that – and to say thank you to all those who donated and took our total raised for people living with EB to nearly £1,300 at the last count.

If you can spare anything, support DEBRA by sponsoring Jonathan’s run here

The crowds on the return Shadwell stretch, as I seem to have coined it, also helped immensely. With participants now frequently walking and falling by the wayside with injury, cramp and, in a few cases, something more serious – their calls were more urgent: ‘You can do this! Keep going, Jon!’ And one sign – Smile: remember, you paid for this!

Somewhere in those miles I passed ‘Fridget Jones’ – Royal Marine Sam Hammond, who was looking to set a Guinness World Record with a fridge strapped to his back – and offered a word of encouragement as he walked along. My pace had by now dropped so low that a few minutes later, he only went and passed me back! I believe he managed the feat, finishing in a remarkable 4:52.

The last three miles were as long as anything I have ever known. Everything ached. Quads, hamstrings, calves, ankles, shoulders like glass. My mantra – it’s not supposed to be easy – was on repeat, and my only goal was to run to the end. Not even the crowds could conjure much in the way of a smile – more of a grimace as I high-fived and gave the old thumbs-up.

Past Westminster and right and we were in the final half-mile: the crowds at St James’s Park were incredible. How far is it? was my only thought. Buckingham Palace on the left, right on to The Mall, we’re going to break 4hrs30m – and to the sound of my favourite track, Papua New Guinea from The Future Sound of London! The stars aligned.

Not so – my Garmin had lied to me! A massive arch proclaimed ‘Only 385 yards to go!’ even as the watch told me I’d passed 26.2 miles.

It didn’t matter. I plodded the final stretch to cross the finish line, as so many heroes had before me – of all abilities, shapes and sizes – and you’d think I’d have spread the arms; punched the air; maybe even done a Mobot.

But no – as my entire family watched enraptured on iPlayer (unbeknown to me), they were treated to a different kind of celebration. “Why were you fiddling with your watch?” my wife asked later. To record the time accurately, dear…

Jonathan Symcox London Marathon stats

My actual time was 4:31:26, if you take out the three wee stops!

Congratulations to Nikki Chamberlain, Nina Sawetz and Simon Moss, all of whom should be proud of their achievement in finishing the marathon – while Nikki ran around 3hrs30m and Simon 4hrs!

It simply remains for me to write: thank you, London, for one of the most awe-inspiring and emotional experiences of my life.

Week 1: How hard can the London Marathon be?

Week 2: Running in the snow (& Peaky Blinders)

Week 3: Beer helps you to recover!

Week 4: Top of the pods… & Muhammad Ali

Week 5 & 6: From Saudi Arabia to Shawforth

Week 7: The Yorkshire terrier

Week 8: A chat with the Chorlton Runners

Week 9: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Week 10: Are we nearly there yet?

Week 11: The boy with butterfly skin

Week 12: Disaster strikes with the old David Dunn injury

Week 13 & 14: Back in the saddle

Final Week: Meet the everyday marathon heroes