Who would had thought that I could run 26.2 miles??
Four years ago I could not even run 1 mile; now I can run 26.2, and this is my story.
Many moons ago my Dad completed his second London Marathon, and out of the blue, I said to him that I would run the London Marathon one day, something that he had kept reminding me of now and then from that very day.
Back in 2010, I decided to start running, well; I was going to have to run the Marathon, so I thought the best start doing something, it also gave me the opportunity to join Thetford Athletics club, make friends and go out, so a win-win situation.
After two years of general training and taking part in the odd competition, I decided to up my game, i.e., run faster, better and harder than before. So I took training to the next level by taking part in multiple sessions a week, I even did three competitions in a month! It was noticeable that after a few months I was getting quicker and beating my previous times, this was great and 5k races slowly turned into 10k races and my first Season of Suffolk Cross Country had also passed.
April 2013, a month I will never forget… this was the month when the Ballot for the London Marathon had opened. I saw all the chatter online and on the news that the ballot was opening and would close by mid-day. On the way to work, I had a brief, insane moment and decided that when I got to work, I would register for it. At this point I had not even spoken with anyone about doing it, not even my Dad who I had originally told I would run it all those years ago, by 9 am I was registered, money handed over and my name was on the list to be selected in October.
What on earth was I thinking?? I had only been running three years and had not even done half a marathon and only just getting the hang of improving my 5k times! But, there was no going back. That evening I called my Parents and told them the good news? My Dad was in shock and did not know how to react, but never the less they were both pleased if not shocked.
So what now? Some training? Longer distance? It was something I knew I would have to do otherwise how else would I run 26.2 miles if I got in??
I increased the number of training nights to try and build my weekly miles and decided to compete in a 10-mile race in May, a Half Marathon in July and September. These races were so that I would experience the longer distance, plus it was a good idea to do at least half the distance before October so that I knew if I did get in that I would stand at least half a chance of completing it.
In September the round Norfolk Relay was due to start, the club was still looking for runners to fill their last few spaces and when I asked the only place they had left was for stage 10… Great Yarmouth to Bungay, 20.2 miles of hilly roads at night, this was certainly a challenge to face. The distance was close to what the Marathon would be and again the furthest distance I would have run, so I volunteered to run it.
I thought it would be do-able because after-all I just completed a couple of Half Marathons (13.1 miles) which meant it was only another 7.. with the help of the club and a support cyclist I managed a respectable time of 2 hours 51 minutes despite getting a rather annoying and impacting blister around 8 miles in!
Ah October, it only felt like yesterday I signed up… this was it; the time of which I would either receive a Magazine to say I am in or one to say Sorry… I saw the hype on the internet, the photos of the magazines and when I got home I looked inside the letterbox to see ‘Your In‘! Oh Dear!!
I told my parents that evening, and they were over the moon, my Dad, however, had already started thinking of what training programme he could plan for me! I knew I had not run that distance before but had a thought of what time I wanted; 03:30:00, which equated to 8 minutes per mile, something challenging yet possible, maybe?
I had also decided that as I got in the Marathon that I would run it for a cause and something close to heart, so I decided Macmillan was going to be the chosen charity, and those 26.2 miles was going to be for them. I aimed to raise £1,337 as this was the figure for training one nurse for a week, indirectly meaning they can help others.
After reading the magazine I decided to go with the 16-week program which meant training 4 to 5 times a week, ranging from hill runs, long runs, sprints, etc. I had already in my head that I wanted to do another Half Marathon so with that in mind I signed myself up for the Norwich Half Marathon in November, I also thought that the smaller distances for the Suffolk Cross Country events would help keep my speed while I trained for longer distance.
I did really want to follow the training plan however with my lifestyle and the sports I do it was not working out, I also spotted a quote that suited me quite well ‘plan training around your life and not your life around training’ so I did what I could, training 3 times a week, circuit training, tchoukball and skiing (ok its not in the plan but it was something I already committed to). The long runs worked out well for me, I had help from the runners within the club and ran on Saturday mornings starting with 18 then 15, and finally, a 22 mile run all six weeks before the Marathon.
The latter of the long runs did cause some muscle pain, and the sensible side of me played it safe and avoided running for a week, the following week was skiing which left me with 1 week before the big day and I managed to get a couple of runs in that week just to remind myself what my marathon pace was going to be.
On Saturday the 12th of April, I travelled down to London with my parents and collected my number, got my chip activated and took a wander around the stalls at the Excel centre
I also made a point of visiting the Macmillan stand to say ‘Hi’ and to write my words of support on their big wall. My parents also got talking to them and walked away with T-Shirts to wear on the day to help support awareness, and it made it easier for me to spot them too.
The Excel centre was great; there were lots to see, buy and try. So I picked myself up another High5 bottle and a new mobile phone armband as the purchase of the weekend, trainers were a nice thought but not today.
There were also motivational speakers at certain points throughout the day. However, I was unable to attend these as we had planned to wander around the London Sealife centre for the afternoon!
The Blue Start
I left the hotel at early doors on the 13th April 2014 and headed to Blackheath where the Blue Start for the London Marathon was, the train was packed with lots of people who had a similar bag to me, and I found myself looking at them to see what they were wearing, just in case I had forgotten something.
In a way it was like going to a new school for the first time, all these people heading through the front gates and having to leave loved ones behind waving, a bizarre sensation, going into the unknown, on your own.
When I got through to the other side, I located where things were, toilets, drinks and the important lorry that was going to take my bag to the finish line for me.
Just shortly after I got myself ready and handed in my kitbag, I bumped into a friendly face and indeed the freshly shaved head of Paul Bingham (an agreement he made for raising £300 for his charity), we walked and chatted a while as we waited for 10:00 am, come 09:45 we said our farewells, wished each other good luck and went in our direction to get ready for the race “pen 4, yep that’s me”.
I walked a little further up the queue of people and noticed banners attached to some people; these were the pacers for each quarter, so I eyed up 3:30 and made sure I was not far behind.
It was 10:00 am, and the klaxon had just gone, there was a loud cheer, and we had started to move, then we stopped? I was a bit confused, guessing it was a false start, who knows, it was only a few seconds, and we were off again, I guess it was due to the volume of people trying to run/jog/walk.
Just after we had started I noticed I was running just behind Tony Tyler (a fellow TAC runner), it just happened we were both running comfortably at the same pace so stuck together as much as we could all the way around.
Within a few miles we had merged with the green start followed by the red start, then we came across the sleeping policemen and pedestrian bollards in the middle of the road that kept us on our toes and joking about the marshal’s shouting ‘hump’ now and then.
The next noticeable thing after the sleeping policemen were the live bands, loudspeakers from the pubs on the corners and masses of people acting as our barrier between us and the pavements! It was amazing, the further we got around the denser the streets got not only with runners but also supporters and spectators.
The next famous place I noticed was the Cutty Sark which we ran down one side and back the other; I was trying to look at the Ship and take it all in and then realised that I started slowing down, so it was head down and told myself to carry on running!
At this point, I remembered that my Parents were in the crowd somewhere around the 9-mile marker, so I kept to our plans and stuck to the left of the route. I was looking at the people directly behind the barrier, shouting my name and others which was a great help and encouraging too. I suddenly realised there were lots of people, not just at the barrier; children sat on the floor, people on the wall behind but still, I never did spot them… however, they were there somewhere.
Over the next few miles, I found myself listening and acknowledging the crowd; I also spotted that we were running directly to the Shard which was quite a view, the next thing I remember I had run over London bridge and was heading down towards the isle of dogs.
The streets were lined with people, and my parents managed to get a position on the overpass which was a great spot for them and me as I saw them this time.
A little further down the road and I noticed that one side was empty. No one was on it yet there were people standing on the other side, then there was a lorry in between us and the empty road with a band playing some great music.
I thought that they must have left one road open for some reason for cars to go down, then a police bike went down going in the opposite direction and the crowd ahead were cheering quite loud and a before I knew it there was the first elite runners going past! The crowd got even stronger then Mo Farrah went past too! The thing that sticks in my mind at this point is that it was not only the crowd that was cheering and clapping, but it was also all the other runners (myself included) that were cheering Mo on too!
People say that you hit the wall between 17 and 20 miles and it was about this time when people around me started to walk and drift off to the side, even crossing in front of me! I ended up having to skip around someone to get out of their way otherwise we would have both been on the floor! I think because of this little hop skip and jump my calves tightened occasionally and made me look a bit like a tin man (as Tony later described) not something that is easy to describe or endure.
Running round Canary Wharf was amazing as it was almost like running past the steps of a football stadium with layers of people and these big overpowering buildings above, I remember looking up expecting to see people hanging out of windows, but I guess their windows did not open as it was not to be seen.
Around mile 20 it was starting to get a bit tough, and I noticed more and more that spectators were handing out sweets to runners which I thought was a great idea. I had also noted that when I went past the 20 mile marker the Timex had said it was just over 3 hours and a little sad feeling went through me knowing that I would not be able to run 6 miles in 30 minutes, however I remembered why I was doing it, picked my head up and carried on and aimed to do the best I could do.
There was water around the route at every mile, and it was that hot that I was taking some on board every time I could but it was at mile 21 when a lady (Kylie) who went to get a bottle of water and unfortunately lost her grip on it. Having already had some of my water and not wasting it by cooling myself down I passed on my water to Kylie who was grateful. Kylie even gave it back to me with enough just to wash down a gel which I was planning on taking which she did not have to do but insisted.
It is amazing how the mile markers were starting to blur into the next; I recall seeing mile 20. I must have done mile 21 as I had water but don’t remember it! I did start to worry I had let time slip and slowed down but then noticed 22 miles was just ahead! Did I just black out for the last mile or two? Maybe it was ‘the wall’ without me realising; I like to think it was because of reciting ‘inside, outside’ trying to avoid ‘tin man’ running.
I then realised that I was now running on the stretch that Mo Farrah had run on not too long ago, ok maybe more like an hour ago but it felt only moments had gone past. I was then experiencing what he did, running past runners on the other side of the road running towards you. The band was still playing, they were now singing Happy by Pharrell Williams and me being me started to clap my hands in the air and sing along with them as I went past! People just thought I was mad, but it was good fun!!
I find it amazing how much of London looks the same or almost the same, somewhere between 22 and 24 miles was some bridges overhead and I had a thought that I knew where I was, I thought I was near Waterloo station.. clearly I was nowhere near it but it kept me entertained for a split second and then realized what a fool I was as we were on the other side of the river. Shortly after this brain lapse we entered a big tunnel which had music blaring inside, there were big white balloons lit up on the left side, and it looked like it went for miles! I thought it was a great section of the route, singing along to ‘Happy’ which the band were singing not so long ago.
When I came out of the tunnel I noticed we were running down the main road with the Thames on our left, one thing that kept going through my mind was ‘is that big ben? no.. is that big be.. no’, for a strange reason I thought that it was only a mile from here and should be visible in the distance.. turns out it was still a fair way away.
Because of the volume of crowds, I did not expect to see my parents, but it was just by luck that they had got to the barrier on the right side just as I was being filtered over on the same side.
It was a nice feeling to know that they had made it and saw me just before the last stages of the run.
I know one thing for sure when I did make a point of looking up and said… oh, look theirs Elizabeth Tower something my Dad had missed both times! It’s probably the closest I have been as well.
‘Only 800 meters to go’, 800! I know people encourage you and say things like ‘your almost there’ but its 800 meters! It is one of those signs you wish it said 400 instead especially at this stage in the run… so 800 meters it was, and there I was trying to work it out.. “so that’s 2 minutes for 400, that’s 4 minutes for 8…. who am I kidding I have just run 25.7 miles, just keep running (faster)!” I stuck my head forward, lifted my legs up and started to pick up the pace heading for the finish line.
In what felt like a lifetime I finally came across the 600 meters to sign, and I found myself feeling slightly lost even though there were other people running the same direction, I guess it was because I had never seen this part of the run in the past.
Finally, the last few meters and three exits to choose from, stands either side with people left right and centre, I quickly glanced up at the Timex 03:48 and before I knew it I had crossed the finish line Yay!! It’s a weird sensation, I had finished and was overwhelmed and not sure what to do or where to go next.
One thing I thought was quite funny, shortly after the finishing line they made us walk up a wooden ramp!! Really.. but it was so that the volunteers could snip off our Timex tags, that makes it OK I guess, even more so when they gave us a nice medal for doing so, but it was funny that I was not alone, I think it was the talk of the crowd for the next few meters.
The official photographers were everywhere on the course, and they were at the end also, several booths were set up to get a photo taken with your medal, so I had my photo taken and collected my goodie bag and proceeded to the lorry park to grab my kitbag before heading to find my parents.
I slowly walked towards the end of the lorries once I had collected my kit bag, many people were propping up trees, the iron fence or each other. Once I got to the beginning of the meeting points, I had noticed that W was way, way, way, way, way over in the distance but it was where I needed to be anyway.
The crowd created a path for the runners (which were more walkers than runners by this time) to walk down and meet friends, families and such. There were many charities lining the streets from start to finish, and they had not stopped there, the Macmillan team were at the end too and congratulated me as I wandered past.
As I got closer to W, the crowd started to thin, and I managed to meet with my Parents, shortly after putting my bags down a young lad from Macmillan (a scout) asked if I was ok and if I needed any help getting up the steps! Bless him; I think if I had accepted that he might have needed the recovery centre himself.
After having a little sit-down, an apple and my recovery protein drink we made our way up the steps to the Macmillan recovery centre, the scout was there helping in any way he could which I was grateful for.
Steps, steps and more steps! Don’t these people know we find it hard to lift our feet? After getting through security and registering we walked down an open corridor which ran beside a courtyard full of Macmillan supporters, family and runners including Matt Henry.
As I was being directed down the steps into the courtyard, I heard my name being mentioned much like a contestant on X Factor as they come through the doors! As I looked up there were cheerleaders chanting thank you’s and everyone was clapping and cheering, it was so overwhelming I could not have asked for more, yet as I managed to get down the steps I was asked if there was anything I wanted or they could do for me, it was like being waited on and I did not want them to go out of their way for me but they insisted.
They booked me in for a massage for my tired legs which we thought may only be a few minutes but I was there for at least 30 minutes, after which I made my way back up the steps and into seeing the St Johns staff as I had picked up a nasty blister on the inside of my foot. I think I was their first patient and they took photos of me and my medal which was the least I could do for their support.
After having been patched up, we made our way out of the venue and who could not resist having a photo with the cheerleaders, something I believe we may have started a ‘thing’ for the rest of the runners.
The long walk back to the hotel to get showered and changed felt slow compared to normal and I was not alone, there were many others walking around London with blue shirts on and bronze medals hanging on their chests.. all walking like John Wayne!
The London Marathon is one of those races you have to experience for your self as there are no real words that can describe the sensation of running past crowds, looking at mad people wearing costumes and the satisfaction of competing and completing the London Marathon.
I completed the London Marathon in 3 hours, 46 minutes and 57 seconds, that’s 50 seconds behind Michael Owen and 2 hours behind Mo Farrah just to give you a comparison.
Initially, after the Marathon my thoughts were ‘it was tough, enjoyable but not again!’ a few days past and I started warming up to the idea of doing it again and even my Dad is considering it too, maybe one day we will run it together.
I won’t lie to you it was a tough run, mentally I think I was fairly OK, but physically I looked like a tin man at some points. However if you asked me ‘should I do it’ or ‘would I be able to’ I would immediately say yes, it is something that you should put on your wish list if you fancy something challenging yet rewarding.
People have asked me ‘how long did it take to recover’. I could walk around the following day. However, there were a few challenges. My ankle had swollen, so running was a little painful and stairs were a certainly a big challenge, two days after I attempted a bike ride which was fine apart from the chain breaking after 2 miles into the ride! Three days after I had mastered stairs again and walked comfortably, four days later I attempted a jog but found that nine days was a better number to start running again.
The one thing I would say that I have enjoyed the most is the fundraising and seeing the total for the sponsorship rise and keep on rising. Not only have we (together with you and I) raised an enormous amount of money to go towards Macmillan nurses we have raised awareness and support for the Macmillan team.
Knowing we were raising money and who it was for helping me mentally to train and run the London Marathon, something that kept coming into my head now and then during the day and it was all for a good cause, which is why I did it. On the day the crowds ware fantastic, the atmosphere is something you can’t explain, but it gives you a lift and helps you get through those important miles.
So, how much did we raise in the end?
£1,817.35 including gift aid!
Written by Karl Wright on behalf of Okhane.