So, it’s done! Slower than I would have liked, but that does nothing to detract from how good it feels. Over these last months, I’ve tried to keep blog posts brief and snappy. This one is a right ramble. Sorry. But it is the last one!
It had been such an anxious week, that by the time I got on the train after work on Friday I was a wreck and couldn’t manage even simple things like using the ticket barrier. (Seriously; 3 goes before I got the ticket in the right way up). On the overland train from London Bridge to Deptford where I stayed, the Canary Wharf skyline, silver against the cloudless deep blue sky of evening, gave me goose bumps as I realised I’d be running there in less than 48 hours.
The next morning I went to register, and everything shifted again, mood wise. It was incredible. Really incredible. It was the first time that the scale of the thing hit me, I think. The DLR was crowded with friendly fellow marathoners; many, like me, first timers displacing anxiety by ceaselessly checking their bags for passport/registration form/cash card/oyster card. Others; seasoned runners smiling benignly when their promises that it would all be fine were met with wide eyed looks of terror and disbelief. Registration took seconds. I couldn’t believe the organisation. And then, round the corner into the cavernous exhibition with millions of stalls. How stupid, I thought, for people to be buying new gear the day before the marathon. Then I saw how much fantastic new gear there was and left with armfuls and a very poorly credit card….I also got a free application of magic gaffer tape. But the buying and the taping and the registering was not the point. The atmosphere, a blend of anticipation, excitement and fear was electric and the warmth and friendliness of total strangers high on nothing but adrenalin was infectious. Like an early 90’s warehouse rave complete with neon outfits, thumping music, and earnest conversations about your fears and dreams with strangers; but in daylight and minus the drug casualties. I left feeling part of something massive, and really, really looking forward to it. (And clutching the oddest free goody bag in the world – a (mans) disposable razor, a can of bitter, a bag of basmati rice, and some salt.)
Sunday morning came, and I woke feeling very calm, oddly. Getting to the start was easy, and again, everyone was ready to strike up conversation so I didn’t mind being on my own, surrounded as I was by people offering or needing warmth and reassurance. I didn’t feel nervous at all really, but stood in pen 8 in the warm sunshine, my teeth were chattering uncontrollably so I must have been. And then, start stop start stop start stop start to the start line and all of a sudden we were off. My plan, following all last weeks injuries, was to run at a pace to bring me in 4.40-4.50. The first three miles were an exercise in keeping it slow and feeling anxious with almost every footfall, worried about injury recurrence. That anxiety didn’t really fade (until 2 miles from the end when I knew I could keep going that distance even if something did go wrong), but in some ways, I’m grateful for it ‘cos it kept me slow. It was warm – really warm – I’m sunburnt now.
Of course, there were lows. The biggest low, for me, in retrospect, is that I stopped for the loo early on and queued for 10 minutes and I didn’t really need to go, I was just nervous I think. My Garmin timer is on auto pause, so those 10 minutes don’t count on my watch time. So, as I turned onto birdcage walk to see the finish line, it said 4 hours 48, and I thought I would push it to make sure I came in under 4.50. I pressed stop at 4.49. But, with that 10 minute stop, and another couple of minutes to retie a shoelace and text Han to tell them I was at mile 16 in the hope they would find me, my chip time is 5.01. Gutted.
Missing all my support was tough. At 3 miles, I scoured the crowd for Lucy and Hannah all the way to the 4 mile marker and when I didn’t see them, I had to have a little talk with myself because I felt horribly disappointed. After Tower Bridge I shunted to the right kerb and hugged it, elbowing poorly hobblers out of the way, in the hope of seeing them at 13 as arranged. I remained optimistic until 15. No sign of Dad and Sue either. I didn’t even see my charity cheering point. I realise now that this was far worse for the pavement crew than for me as they anxiously lugged around London worrying about whether or not I was still running and trying to get to the next point, and wondering why none of us had thought it would be a good idea to tell them what I’d be wearing. When I did see Lucy and Han, it was by chance; they’d just folded up the banner and were about to give up the ghost when I spotted them, a mile further than arranged at 22 and after I’d resigned myself to no support. I am ashamed to say that my relief and joy manifested itself by screaming “where the fucking hell have you been” as I hugged them. As I jogged on, I realised that was a bit ungracious. Whoops.
Mile 17 – 22 were really tough. One foot in front of the other and lots of discussions with myself to remember I had felt worse in training so keep on plodding.
The worst bit at the time, though, was the journey from the baggage lorry to meet Hannah and Lucy, then the long walk to the IOD to meet Dad and Sue. After two days of wonderful organisation it was over-crowded chaos and the atmosphere of friendly support evaporated as tired and harried family members literally shoved their way through crowds of staggering runners. It took me 30 minutes to get to the meeting point and it was shoulder to shoulder packed, starting to pour with rain, and I couldn’t see Hannah and Lucy or get any reception on my phone the first 10 times I rang it and I was exhausted, cold, hungry, thirsty and a bit scared about what to do. Then the signal returned momentarily and their phone rang, so they held up the banner and I shouldered my way through to them, and burst into tears. Thank god they were there, they were brilliant and lovely and kind and patient even though they had had a long long tiring day. They didn’t even tell me off when we were on our way out of London and had to turn back because I had left passport and keys. Or when I called the man in burger king a dickhead because I was a bit beside myself with hunger and fatigue and he messed up the order. Whoops, and whoops again.
But there were a lot more highs than lows.
I can honestly say that (disappointment about missed support aside) miles 1-16 were great and the time flew by. This is going to sound mental but I was almost a bit disappointed at hitting some of those mile markers because I wanted to soak up every moment as long as possible. Everything everyone says about the atmosphere is true. It was electric, and took away much of the need for the practice in training at keeping my head straight with positive thoughts. Whenever I found myself tiring, I just looked around and remembered this day was what I worked for and it was all worth it. Highlights; the Taiko drummers in Greenwich who made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up; running past the Cutty Sark (with a “proper” marathoner saying “make sure you keep smiling this half mile, love, all the telly crews are here”); the gospel choir just before Blackfriars underpass, finally seeing Lucy and Hannah at 22 miles and them telling me I looked strong (I didn’t feel it then), shortly followed by Dawn at 24 who I really didn’t expect to be able to see at that crowded point, and, shortly after that, finally allowing myself to accept I was going to finish, and finally, turning the last corner and seeing the finish, right there so close after all that time. I had thought I might cry crossing the finish line but I laughed and punched the air instead.
If I had to pick just one moment from a day crammed with moments, it would be crossing Tower Bridge, which is impossible to describe, or even explain why it was so brilliant. Every account I’d read of the marathon said it was a highlight and I couldn’t see why that would be any more special than other bits, until it happened and I couldn’t stop grinning. I did a lot of grinning, yesterday.
People on the sidelines were amazing from the beginning to the end, and from mile 22 I made sure I was right at the edge to take advantage of it. With my name on my vest I never did more than 100 metres over those four miles without yells of support and it really, really helped. You can’t stop when people are singling you out and telling you you’re doing brilliantly, you really can’t. And I love the fact that people will come out and stand there and shout themselves hoarse to help complete strangers.
At the finish line I looked at my phone. Thank you so much to everyone who texted before and during the race, reading those messages on the way to the baggage claim had me welling up so much that first aiders kept taking my arm and gently asking if I was ok!
Running the London Marathon is one of the only things I’ve ever thought “I must do that before I die” about. In fact, I think it may be the only thing. Having an ambition like that is a bit scary because the risk is that it can’t live up to the dream. But it did, and then some. Hannah asked me on the way home if I’d do it again and although of course my feelings may change when my legs regain the ability to bend, I am not sure I would because I had the best day, and there’s nothing I want to change (apart from that 10 minute loo break!).
I would say that from mid February onwards, I’ve enjoyed the training. I’m proud of the fundraising I’ve done, and I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog.
Thank you to everyone who has read the blog, generously donated to the fund, and been supportive and brilliant in so many ways. I will try to repay you all in an appropriate fashion – be that pints/ cups of tea/ or maybe just promising not to bang on about running quite so much! There is a little roll call required to round off my marathon journey.
My friend Melissa, who got me into this mess in the first place, and whose positivity, enthusiasm and drive are properly inspirational. Not to mention asking people to donate to me instead of giving her a birthday gift which is incredible. The only thing that’s been a shame about training is that I’ve missed running with Melissa and I hope we’ll change that now I’m less bound to a plan.
Mum, who has been indefatigable fighting my corner and who is responsible for a massive chunk of donations. I hope she hasn’t lost too many friends by haranguing them on my behalf.
Dad and Sue who perched on a railing for 2 and a half hours to no avail and then battled their way to the IOD in the rain to buy champagne all round even though they had no time to stay and drink it.
Delia, for lending me her beautiful flat, and leaving the most comprehensive set of local info and instructions to make the pre-marathon day an oasis of tranquility.
My sister who nearly had a heart attack tracking my progress online in the aforementioned 10 minute loo stop when she thought I’d collapsed.
And of course, the pavement crew, Hannah and Lucy. The day before the marathon, I read an article by Muriel Gray who cheers on her marathoner husband which said:
Just remember that those of us waiting in the rain under the alphabet family meeting signs, bursting with pride and ready with the sweatshirts are all a part of it too.
They sure were a part of it. They turned out to keep me company through the worst of the long winter runs in the sleet, rain, wind and snow, and kept me going with their merciless teasing, tough love, and ceaseless bloody chatter. I never would have got to the start without them, and I have never been so happy to see anyone as I was to see them at the end. They are amazing, truly.
Marathon done, mid-life crisis temporarily averted and so, and I’m sure you’ll agree, I think that’s enough from me now.
I’m not much of a one for poetry, but I can’t think of anything that would be more fitting this morning than this:
I have promises to keep,
and miles to go
before I sleep
See you all in 26 miles and 385 yards xxxxx
I’m going to admit something a bit sad now. I had drafted the entry to post today, the day I set off for London, about a month ago. I don’t think I’ll be in a fit state to post an entry once I’m there as I’ll be too busy being petrified you see. The draft I’d written was a bit of a stock take of the training, a little roll call of a few people who’ve been amazing, and a general, self-satisfied, look-how-well-I’ve-done, pat on the back.
That was then, this is now. Sunday, I committed the most basic and stupid of running errors and set out too fast and pushed too hard on my last long-ish run. And I injured myself. Doctor Google (physician of choice for hypochondriac’s everywhere) told me to hop on one leg ten times to rule out a stress fracture. I hopped once, and burst into tears. Then I rang the physio. I don’t know that I have ever been so angry with myself.
The physio saw me on Wednesday and pummelled me into near oblivion for 90 minutes and said it was “probably” not a stress fracture, but he refused to rule it out until I’d had two days to recover from him beating the crap out of me and been for a 3 mile run. Which was this morning. It’s still sore, but no worse than before I saw him. I’ve spent 10 minutes on the phone with him and he says that I have a muscle injury but not a stress fracture. This means that I can run the marathon without doing myself any (lasting) damage as long as I do it conservatively, and accept that it is very possible that it will hurt because, ideally, I needed 10 days to recover. Which I don’t have.
I trust him implicitly. I have been at the physio before now, waiting for my treatment, listening to Jessica Ennis being told off for not doing her stretches (“Just because you’re world champion doesn’t mean you’re exempt”). So he knows what he’s on about and if he says run, I’ll run.
I have seen some wonderful messages of support on facebook this week and received some great donations. I’m sorry I haven’t responded to you individually yet; until the “all clear” this morning I haven’t really wanted to talk about this weeks shenanigans, or indeed, the marathon, at all. Thank you (especially Aidan, and Roz, and anonymous, who-ever you are!)
The original post ended like this:
By the time I am at Blackheath at 9.45am on the 22nd April I will have achieved more than I ever thought was really possible. And after that, well, I guess I’ll find out.
The revised version ends like this:
God knows if I can do it, now, but, fuck it.
Here goes nothing…!
…..and it’s all feeling a bit tense. Reviewing the training diary is bollock-all use, contrary to a million different sources of useless advice. I don’t look back over all I’ve achieved and feel calm that it’s enough, thank you very much smug running coach person, with your stupid training program and your dumb book. I look back over the last four months and wonder why I still can’t run much faster than I could in January, have gained a shed load of weight, and had a horrible time on Sunday’s 13 miler and wanted to die. It’s blatantly apparent that I haven’t done nearly enough! I shall be the laughing stock of all of London.
And, what are all these new strange pains in places previously pain free?
And, why am I sleeping so badly?
And, why do I have to eat all this sodding pasta?
And, why am I in such a fucking FOUL mood?
I’ll tell you why.
Tapering is the bit of marathon training I’d been really excited about – the part where you DON’T have to train for most of the day nearly every day and get to do lolloping around eating jaffa cakes as part of a brilliant scam called “carbo-loading”.
Well, turns out that tapering is RUBBISH. Possibly my body is benefitting from less time spent hammering out miles on the road/bike/pool, but my brain does not like it one little bit. My brain is moronic, I know, but it’s quite insistent. I’m used to doing a LOT of exercise now, and this sudden depletion of activity feels very wrong. It’s quite funny really. Six months ago, I always had a little “bad angel” on my shoulder dissuading me from exercise (it’s cold outside, masterchef is on, there is cheese in your fridge) but now it’s the reverse (five miles would not do any harm, or some intervals then; you have to because of all that cheese you ate..).
I am paranoid about getting sick, now, because I read somewhere that it is quite common in the taper – something about the immune system relaxing; “hurrah, the body isn’t working so hard time for me to kick back and relax, oh shit sorry, I didn’t see that bout of pneumonia coming, I was watching masterchef….”.
I am mainlining Echinacea and vitamin C and am contemplating buying a face mask when I go back to work. The start of term is super dangerous as the students return to Leeds bringing with them hosts of germs from all across the lands, and then sit sniffling and sneezing in my classes spreading mysterious disabling viruses.
My sister and her family are visiting tomorrow. I have already quizzed her about their health. She says they are all fine but I think I may set up a disinfecting area by the front door just in case (like they had on farms in the foot and mouth scare years back – cat litter tray filled with dettol for them to walk through and a quick spray over with some cillit-bang, I’m thinking).
I never ever thought I’d say this but I’m REALLY looking forward to the intervals I’m allowed to do on Wednesday. In the meantime, take care. And if you have a cold or are at all under the weather, then please, leave me the hell alone!*
*and also, get well soon……
So, I went to the physio last night. The last couple of weeks, my achilles has been a bit niggly, and on my 15 miler last weekend it felt a bit unstable a couple of times and that worried me. It has felt much worse during training tbh, but this tapering business is a funny beast. Less exercise = less exhausted = more time to dwell on stuff = more time to become paranoid about illness/injury. Apparently 98% of people who start VLM finish it – but I would be devastated if after all this work I couldn’t get to the start line.
Hence, the physio. I decided that if the achilles was niggly, now would be a good time to have a bit of work done on it, check the strength stuff I’m doing is right, and listen to any advice about how much/how little to do now – given my plan is mainly speed work now and speed work tends to carry the highest injury risk. Secretly I was hoping that the physio would say absolutely definitely do not do any speed work at all. Ever again. Because I hate it. Sadly, that was not the outcome.
The only person who I could get an appointment with was someone I’d never seen before, who looked about 11. Her youthful appearance concealed a vicious brutality common to all physio’s (and dentists) who cheerfully tell you this may “hurt a bit” before attempting to wrench your leg free from your body.* Then, she stuck bright blue gaffer tape all over my calves. Which I queried. Apparently it is a proper physio “thing”, and not some sort of weird body collage. Kinesio tape. I looked it up when I got home, and they do sell it online so it definitely exists. Quite how sellotaping your legs up is supposed to mend them I cannot possibly tell you but I now have something else that people in my gym will be able to laugh at me for later today.
After tying my legs up with tape, she said she needed to show me a lot of exercises designed to “turn on my bum”. By this time I was getting a bit scared, frankly, and wondering what kind of perverted hell-hole I’d accidentally entered. She then explained that my glute muscle on the left side (the dodgy achilles side) was “very idle” and didn’t ever do any work. This ends up putting strain on all the other muscles in the leg and leads to injury. The idle glute has basically forgotten what to do, so the exercise regime is supposed to remind it to switch itself on and do it’s frickin’ job.
So, people, it’s official. I am a lazy arse……
*if a dentist ever tries to wrench your leg from your body, btw, you should tell the police.
(….but I am v pleased he isn’t saying run 26 miles in a heatwave……)
UK Outlook for Tuesday 17 Apr 2012 to Tuesday 1 May 2012:
Conditions look set to remain on the unsettled side, with showers or longer spells of rain affecting most areas, giving close to average rainfall amounts for much of the UK, perhaps slightly above in some places. It is likely to continue to feel cool, if not fairly chilly, with temperatures quite widely around or just below the seasonal average. Sunshine amounts are likely to be highly variable in this unsettled regime, but most places should see close to average amounts
Lovely Dave has delivered me 2 compilations of songs to soundtrack a marathon…I’m thinking I probably won’t listen to music once it starts – but if I change my mind and need some help, I reckon this could carry anyone up the Mall for the last half mile…
Thanks Dave xx