The morning came, and it the weather looked promising. Having been forecast to be 22C’ on the day it decided to be partially cloudy with a chance of showers which is much better weather for running in if you ask me.
I was running with a good friend, Graham, and we were both running for the CMA. Graham stayed over at my place on Saturday night and with Kate’s help and planning we spent the night ironing on names to our running shirts so people could shout encouragement to us. As it happened not many people cheered for me – and when they did it was generally because I was walking. Now on this point; I did this a lot to people last year and figured that it would help them start running again – encourage them to get going. I can safely now say that people that do that are fuckers. Cheer for the people that are running. leave me to my misery.
Anyhow, I get ahead of myself. And yes, I did some walking. Not loads, but too much. Let me start from the very beginning, which is a very good place to start….
So it was a grey morning and we were up before 7am for our porridge. I wasn’t nervous, which I had been for my first couple of half marathons, I was actually looking forward to it. I was confident that I had trained hard (harder than I have EVER trained for anything in my life) and that even if I did struggle, I was going to enjoy the day. It’s not everyday you run a marathon after all – and this was to be my ONLY marathon.
Our morning plan was a simple one – Graham, Kate and I would meet up with Caroline at 8 at London Bridge and then with Luke at the Start at 9. Then a quick warm up and then the off! Kate and Caroline were to be my course cheer leaders and support, Luke was taking part in the Marathon doing a tyre pull. Yes, a tyre pull. The fool had agreed to drag two car tyres behind him all the way round and collect coins/cash in a bucket whilst doing it. His target time for this was 10 hours so Graham and I would be finished (with luck) before he got half way round, but it was important to all be there together at the start.
Graham, Luke and I all grew up together, within a few hundred meters of each other in Crawley. Its odd that as we all approach 40 (some closer than others) that we would find ourselves gathering to do the London Marathon together.
Don’t we look pretty?
As we stood waiting for the start, patting each other on the back and making jovial comments to each other the skies opened and the rain started to fall. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I was standing around, in shorts, and it was raining. ha. haha. hmmm.
Luckily it was a fairly short burst and it cleared up before we had to leave the shelter of the trees we had huddled under to take our place on the start line. Graham and I went to the back with Luke and watched him strap and clip his tyres on, then we wished him well before taking our place amongst the runners. As it happened we stood next to a chap called Pete Digby who was carrying a kitchen fridge on his back – raising money for the British Legion. God dammit some people are just too fit! ( see http://www.justgiving.com/pete-digby)
As such, I didn’t have much of a strategy for the day. Slow and steady, keep to my practiced 10 minute mile and run for as long as I can. I had no doubts in my mind that I would end up doing some kind of run/walk strategy towards the end but I wanted to get to 20 miles before I started any walking. On both my two previous long runs I had reached 16 miles without stopping so surely with the Adrenalin and crowd support 20 was in my reach???
Graham had recently injured his ankle – his strategy was similar to mine. Slow and steady.
And then we were off
It took 15 minutes from the start gun for us to cross the start line and it was a really good atmosphere. Everyone was in such good spirits and there was a sense of excitement in the air. This was very shortly followed by an overwhelming sense of the need to pee. Odd. I had spent less than a day in the company of Graham but our bladders had synchronised and whilst still on Blackheath common we nipped off the road (along with an obscene amount of other runners) for a quick pee in the bushes. I’m sorry Blackheath – it must have been the chilly weather and then the excitement.
As was to be expected the first few miles were slower than our target time as there were just so many runners that you could not help but keep getting boxed in, however time was not a pressing issue and we ran along making fun of ourselves and others. If no one was calling our names and shouting support just yet then we would do it ourselves! And why keep it to ourselves? We were shouting encouragement to everyone! 🙂 We then decided that we should thank/acknowledge every policeman/woman we saw. The Streets rang out with us shouting “Good morning officer” and “Thank you officer” and many such comments. As a rule they totally blanked us, and lets be honest, who can blame them, however it kept us amused.
At around 6 miles it dawned on me; I just wasn’t enjoying the run – something just wasn’t right. I’m usually fine running up to around 10 miles before I start thinking about being tired or wondering if its acceptable to quit, however here I was, 6 miles done, only 1 hour in and I was feeling ‘awkward’. Yes, that’s the best way I can think to describe it. There was nothing I can do about it – it wasn’t dreadful or anything like that – it was just that I was running slower than I should be, and finding it harder than it should be.
At around 8 miles we passed our first scheduled sighting of the support team – and all was merry and good. We waved as I went passed and it all seemed a little easier for a while. About a mile further on and young Christy was wailing at me from the other side of the road – I almost ran past without seeing her but her screams eventually got my attention – sorry Christy! (I promise to listen out more next time).
At 10 miles Graham was starting to struggle. His ankle which he had bound tightly due to shin splint issues was giving him grief and I started to pull away from him a little. We had always said that we would run our own runs and not wait for each other if we started struggling with each others pace so with a nod and wave from Graham I carried on and pulled further ahead.
The next big point was Tower Bridge at 12 miles. What an awesome part of the race and quite possibly the loudest part for consistent cheering. Half way across on the left was supposed to be the first CMA supporters area and I was concentrating so hard on looking out for them and trying to find my own ‘space’ for a good photo op that I actually almost missed them and they were gone in a flash. Its amazing how you get caught up in moments like that and I had certainly ran faster over the section than any part of the run so far. However, I paid the price for that for the next couple of miles and as I passed the half way marker I realised that there was no way I was going to hit 20 miles before taking a break. And in that moment of weakness, that moment of starting to admit that I really was doing worse than I had hoped, I suddenly found myself agreeing to walk for a minute. Exactly a minute – no more, no less. What??? This is only 13 miles! I should be doing much better than this.
The middle bit
So I walked for my minute and started running again, started mentally building myself back up – perhaps now I’ve had a little break I could indeed run through to 20 miles…. This is good, this is possible! Alas it just didn’t last for long 😦 and by 14.5 miles I started to struggle again. At around 16 I bumped into some folk from work. Bless them they were a welcome sight and once more my spirits rose. They ran along side me on the path for a few minutes, and did a BBCesk interview – which has been posted on youtube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQXDeDy0Nqg
Now, let me tell you about ‘The Wall’. Its a flipping mountain! I ran on past that chaps from work, and knew that not far ahead Kate and Caz where supposed to be waiting at our 2nd agreed point (around 17 miles). As I ran up to the 17 mile marker my calve muscles were screaming at me, my legs where like lead, my feet where killing me and my mind simple kept repeating “I hate this, I hate this”. For some reason – EVERYTHING just became the worse thing ever.
I had to stop just passed the 17 mile marker and stretch for fear that I was getting cramp in my calves. I stretched for slightly longer than I need to, then set off again. My mental ‘state’ hadn’t improved and though giving up simply wasn’t an option, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t thinking about it. At 17.5 miles I found Kate and Caz and I ran over to them and all but collapsed into Kate’s arms.
I cant really recall what they said to me – but I know what I said was along the lines “it’s hard, I hate it, I hurt”. This was my low point. This was the wall. This was the challenge. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to really put into words just what I was feeling – but let me tell you it was quite dark. However, there was also still a firm resolution to continue – to beat it, to finish. After about a five minute pep talk, and another stretch, I set off again and for all that nothing had changed, I new now I could do it.
The Back Leg
So I decided my strategy – I would now run to 20 miles. From there I would walk for a minute and then run to the next mile marker where I would walk a minute and then repeat. Yeah. This is good, I can do this, this run is as good as MINE.
So I hit 20 – yeah, what a feeling. A quick look at my watch – spot the seconds and figure out my minute. My 60 second reprieve. And then suddenly the minute was over, but the legs just would engage again. OK, another 60 seconds. I’d broken the back of this so I could allow myself another minute… I ended up taking 5 before managing to start again. The mental willpower was there, but my legs, especially my thighs, were just shot. They’d given their best and didn’t want to give anymore – not willingly, not without a fight. And this is how the next 5 miles passed. Every running minute was a fight against my legs that wanted nothing but to stop. Not to lay down, not to walk, but just to stop.
But fight them I did. I kept them running until the mile marker, then gave them a 5 minute walk and 5 minutes only before starting them running again. I came across Kate and Caz again around 22 miles – alas it was just after the mile marker so I was walking and that so depressed me. That they were putting all this effort into running around London to see me run the Marathon only to find me walking. But there was just nothing left in me to do more. I new I couldn’t push my legs to run the rest of the way – this was a battle in which my legs were fighting back as hard as I was fighting to conquer them!
And it wasn’t just me. All around me people were struggling, fighting their own battles with their own enemies – but none of us were giving up – we were all battling through it. I ran past some poor girl being sick, repeatedly. I could see her being sick as I ran up to her and I could hear her being sick after I had long past her (we were in a tunnel heading down to the embankment at this point). However, I also saw her at the end. She carried on, pushed herself on even after that and I was struck by how proud I was of what I was doing. What we were all doing.
The home Stretch
I ran on down to the 25 mile marker at the end of the Embankment and didn’t stop. Not here, not this close. I pushed myself beyond what I thought I could to just keep running. It’s so close now that I cant possible fail. Over the next mile I got quite emotional thinking about that. I cant give up, I cant fail. Not now, not after all of this. I’ll even admit to shedding a tear or two (not crying, just a couple of tears) as I pushed on, into Parliament Square and not paying a bit of attention to the fabulous buildings around me that usually fill me with a sense of love (for London) and pride (in Britain). Not time for that now – no effort to spare. Leaving the square behind and starting down Birdcage walk and everything now was focused on the finish – how far out can I start my sprint finish, I always try and sprint the last….
800 meter marker… too far out, I’ll never do it.
600 meter marker… so tempting, but still too much. God my legs ache.
400 meters.. OK lets try… and I start getting faster, nothing more than a run over my previous jog
Then 200 meters.. well, lets just give it my all, along with many others at that point, now the finish is in sight are determined to put in one last burst of effort.
And with that dash – the finish line, a medal and a photo.
Its now been 3 weeks since finishing it and I still cant fully appreciate it. Perhaps I’ll be able to add a better finish at another time but for now I can only say:
Its was the hardest thing I’ve ever done – but by god I am going to do it again! 🙂