…eventually. Yesterday I was feeling a little subdued and disappointed but, after sleeping on it, I think I should get over it and accept that I did my best under the circumstances.
Yes, the heat got the better (or worse?) of me. All of my training pointed to a 4.30 finish, and I did everything I should have done in the lead up to the race, but you just don’t know what will happen on the day.
On Saturday I took it easy: a bit of gardening, lots of playing, lots of water and some really good food prepared by chief nutritionist, Edward. When I woke up on Sunday morning I had the runs and my period, how frustrating when you’ve got 26.2 miles to run!
So, I ate my porridge, drank some water and got my kit on. Hector was quick to point out that one of my letters was coming off, so out came the iron for a quick re-iron-on. I felt quite emotional leaving the boys, with this being the longest stretch of time Hector and would be separated and I was really nervous.
On the way to the tube people were wishing me good luck and the binman called out as he drove past! I proudly showed my race number to the person at the gate and was allowed to ride for free 🙂 On the platform I thought I was the only runner, until a pirate came up and said hello. I travelled all the way to Blackheath with Chris and we picked up lots of other runners along the way. London Bridge was a bit stressful, with platform changes every few minutes and stressed runners darting about, not knowing where to go. Eventually we packed on to a crowded and very hot train…the sun was blazing down at just 8.15 in the morning.
After all the delay at London Bridge, it didn’t leave much time to put bags in the trucks and pop to the loo. I spotted the ‘women’s urinals’ where they were premiering the ‘P-Mate’, but wasn’t too keen…until I saw the queue for the loos! No question, I was in that urinal like a shot. It was really rather odd: you turn the corner, P-Mate in hand, and are greeted by a row of bums! All I can say is the relief outweighed the horribleness of it all. A quick spray with hand sanitiser and off I went to grab some water and find my place in the ‘pens’. It was all very buzzy, with giant hot air balloons to our right, and helicopters overhead, but everyone seemed a bit nervous and impatient as we waited to make our way to the start. I chatted with a man called Nikko about all sorts of things, which helped to pass the time nicely. I had imagined the start to be quite exciting, with a pistol being fired and an excited surge, but it was more of a slow stroll then a slightly quicker plod under the arch.
These first few miles were amazing. The only thing that ached was my face from smiling too much! I beamed at the crowds and high-fived the rows of children’s hands, and enjoyed hearing my name being called ‘This is fantastic!’ I thought ‘I definitely want to do this again!’ The miles ticked by quickly, and we soon converged with the other start and made our way through crowded streets, spotting pub-goers downing pints in the already hot sun. At this point I passed a man running in jeans and a fleece, carrying a can of beer and looking a bit like Bez – just an enthusiastic tag-along I guess! I was struck by how many people were set up for the day: families with deck chairs in the garden, barbeques smoking, bands striking up on balconies and outside pubs, real supporter dedication! People held out tubs of jelly babies and slices of orange and one woman had sticking plasters and Deep Heat! Amazing.
Things were going well for the first half, I was passing over the 5k markers and my chip was letting followers know what time I was doing, and Edward thought I was on course for my 4.30 finish, as steady as ever. I had imagined Tower Bridge to be a momentous stage, but actually, I hardly registered it. The bridge itself is, of course, incredible, but the crowds seems caged in and this is where my calf muscles started their descent into hell. Turning right towards the Docklands area, we saw the faster runners making their way towards the finish. I dreamed about going that way, picturing myself strong and determined.
During my training runs, even the challenging 20 miler I did a few weeks ago, I am never tempted to walk, I just don’t consider it, but now I found myself hobbling along, my legs seizing up. These were just brief walk breaks, but I sensed things were only going to get harder and harder. I had been taking on my gels for fuel and grabbing drinks at regular intervals. During training, I often make a 500ml bottle last a whole run, but here I was gulping the water down, feeling an incredible thirst and wanting to just stop and drink more. This gave me an achey belly, and I had a stitch for the rest of the run.
These miles are slightly blurry, I know that the crowds were deep and that their support was good, but it just didn’t do anything for me now, in fact I found any quieter stretches more helpful and I was able to focus more and shut things out a bit. This is where things really went wrong. I came through a water station near mile 17 and was lifted by the sight of the Runners World support groups. I wandered over and was asked what I needed (they stand there for the whole day and give out things that people have requested, they are a really wonderful bunch of volunteers). I just needed to stretch (apparently in the same spot as Gordon Ramsey earlier!), then I grabbed an extra gel (thank you) and an orange slice and off I went. Not much further along the road my calf muscles became so cramped that my legs buckled under me. I managed to get to the side and pull myself up to stretch and was helped by a concerned looking marshall who tried to straighten my legs. Some young girls were staring at me over the barrier ‘Run for your charity!’ one said. If only I could walk!
I carried on, running, walking, hobbling and it happened again. This time with no warning and there I was, in a crumpled heap on the ground. Out of nowhere two amazing runners stopped and swept me up, lifting me to the shaded side of the road and giving me a bottle of water. Whoever they were, they were so kind, so caring and I think I might still be sitting there crying if it wasn’t for them! After some more stretching and some encouragement from some onlookers, I tried again and made it as far as the next St.John’s Ambulance station where a row of seats supported runners with exactly the same problem as me. I was quickly given a lovely calf massage and sent on my way. I had never, ever imagined sitting down during a marathon to have a massage, but it did the trick for a while. The man massaging me said ‘We’ll see how far we can get you’ and I – shocked – said ‘to the end!’ There was no way I wasn’t going to finish, even if it meant walking all the way. This contradicted my thoughts a few miles earlier where I went through a conversation in my head: ‘Stop, give up, go home’ ‘No, think about the money you have raised, the people who have put their faith in you!’
So, from this point on, I just had to get there. I walked for what seemed like long stretches, and did shorter running sections. People called out my name, but it didn’t seem to mean anything, I do think it helps to see someone you know along the way, but that wasn’t really a possibility, so I looked forward to the friendly faces at the end. Something good happened as the end came nearer: I had a switch in my head, a psychological lift that would carry me through. When I knew there were just three miles to go, I was able to run again, I still had my steady ten-minute mile head on and thought ‘only half and hour’. Of course, it was a bit slower, but the thought helped. Seeing Big Ben was reassuring, just a little turn then one longish stretch and a turn to the finish. I will not stop and walk!
In the build up, in my dreams, I pictured a sprint to the finish, but a gentle steady run was all that was needed, tears rolling down my cheeks as I saw the clock. I knew it had taken 15 minutes to cross the start line, but I had definitely taken over five hours to make it to the Mall, a personal worst. I wandered in a blur to have my timing chip cut off my shoe and a smiling woman put a medal around my neck, but I felt so sad, so disappointed. I bent over at the side and sobbed for a bit, then picked myself up and collected my things. I had done it, I had got there through the most incredible pain and I now had a new time to beat. I had thought ‘never again’ during the race, but it’s like childbirth – you soon forget the pain! I have a few races lined up over the summer, and maybe next time I should run an Autumn marathon, where it should be cooler, and maybe somewhere less crowded where I can focus and relax.
I had a message from Edward: ‘We are in the ICA bar with Joe’, so I headed over for the pint of Coke I had craved. I heard my name for the hundredth time but this time it was my boys and I got the biggest hug ever ‘Mummy!’ We relaxed a bit in the ICA and I quickly changed in the loos. Someone wanted to ‘ave miwk!’ so there is no rest for a mummy. I had decided that my post-marathon treat dinner should be at Tayyabs, a big hearty curry with lots of delicious mango lassi, so that’s what I had 🙂
It was a very emotional, challenging day but my training in the months leading up to the race were fantastic. Thank you to everyone who supported me throughout, with encouraging emails and comments on here, thank you to everyone who sponsored me for the NSPCC and Childline and most of all, thank you to my two boys who continue to believe in me and give me everything I need to get through these challenges I set myself. you are stars!
Time: 5 hours, 19 minutes 50 seconds
Distance: 26.2 miles