The Day Of …
The London Marathon is done. The weather was brilliant. Perfect conditions, in fact. It should have gone swimmingly …
There’s a buzz about Greenwich Park. Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now blasts from loudspeakers. People sit on the grass, tucking into their picnic breakfasts. I see someone’s bag stuffed with not one, but two – TWO – bunches of bananas. I have a cup of tea and even though it’s 8a.m. on a Sunday morning it all feels so civilised and natural, as though people get up every day at the crack of dawn to run a marathon. And it’s like I’m up north because everyone’s smiling and saying hello and wishing each other luck. I don’t think I’ve seen more than five people smile in London.
The mother-in-law would be pleased to see the thousands of portaloos. There are also polite announcements kindly requesting people not to pee on the streets – she would approve of that too.
Before we know it, we’re off. I don’t see William, Kate and Harry as it takes almost ten minutes to shuffle to the start line and they’ve probably been whisked away in a helicopter to the finish. The finish line seems like such a long way away. Literally, it is a long, long way away.
A woman in front of me is leaking water. I wonder what’s going on. And then I realise she’s relieving herself. A few metres into the race and people are already darting behind bushes to answer the call of nature. Like the mother-in-law, they must be stressing about the toilet situation.
It’s weird to hear feet pounding, the constant thump, thump, thump on the road. But then the crowd’s roar by the roadside dampens the sound. Music blares from the pubs. Children are already handing out Jelly Babies and Haribos.
The miles skip by. The sun’s come out to say hello. I pass two guys running in tailored suits; Batman and Robin; an apple and a purple fairy. There’s a Dalmatian too. There are countless people running for so many different charities and that’s an inspiration. Others have pictures pinned to their backs of loved ones past away.
Three miles in, there’s a stampede at the first water station. Half-drunk Buxton bottles hurtle like missiles left, right and centre. I’m in a war zone. It’s the same at every water station. But it’s all right. I’m trotting at a comfortable pace on target for sub-3.40. My feet niggle, but I tell myself it’s all in my head and my legs feel fine. The bright pink compression socks I’ve chosen to wear are working wonders. My French Hoka trainers may well be ugly, but they are brilliant. The atmosphere is absolutely amazing and I’m smiling like a dolphin.
Until I trip over a water bottle a little after mile 10. My ankle gives way, I fall, smack onto the tarmac.
This is it. I can’t believe it.
Two runners haul me up. A man runs over from his house and helps me to the side. Another goes to get someone from St. John’s Ambulance. I’m sat down on a chair. I don’t want to sit – I want to race, but I can’t put any weight on my left leg. Two paramedics rush over. I need an ice pack. Except they don’t have one to hand. After much deliberation one of them heads back to their ambulance for one. I’ve no idea where that is, nor how long it will take for her to go and come back. Meanwhile, time ticks by. Runners float effortlessly by. I so want to join them. Pulling out of the marathon at this stage would be devastating. I’m close to tears. The owner of the chair I’m sitting on feels so sorry for me that he runs inside his home to get me something from his freezer for my ankle. He dashes back out, brandishing a packet of Waitrose peas. He then brings out another chair and puts my leg on it. He doesn’t have to do that. A spectator comes running over. Someone has collapsed. The other paramedic cleaning the graze on my leg looks stressed. I tell him to go. A dodgy ankle and graze are nothing compared to someone out cold. The first paramedic returns with an ice pack. She wants to fix it around my ankle but she doesn’t have any tape. I tell her to stuff it down my sock instead. Now it looks like I have a baseball-sized tumour protruding from my ankle. I return the packet of peas to the man and head back into the race. I daren’t look at my watch to see how much time I’ve lost. Actually, there’s no point thinking about getting a good time. It’ll be a miracle if I make the remaining 16 miles. Just enjoy the day, I tell myself.
If there is a silver lining it’s that my feet don’t hurt. Yay! It gives me a boost just thinking about it. So does the crowd. At Tower Bridge the crowd swells, screaming encouragement as we pass 20km. I wave madly at them and the cameras. I’m expecting cobbles except there aren’t any. We go through Wapping and Shadwell and I look in awe at the fast runners coming down the other side. I’m inspired and I keep on running. And I’m in awe of The Shard looking beautiful and ethereal stretching up into the clouds. The ice pack starts to annoy me. It’s as warm as a freshly boiled egg and it’s like I’ve got an almighty leech stuck to my ankle. I stop by the side and beg a paramedic to help me take it out. She asks me if I want another one. No way, José! Without it, my leg feels feathery light, and my bright pink compression socks work wonders holding everything together. Or perhaps it’s all in my mind.
Sure enough, the ankle must be taking its toll because I’m getting tired. I focus on the spectators and grin at them and they smile back. I give high fives to people young and old. Someone shouts, ‘Go, girl in the pink t-shirt, go!’ and I motor on. I follow a girl called Lauren running for Marie Curie Cancer Care. She’s got a bounce in her step. So does the lady in canary yellow with BRAZIL printed on the back of her t-shirt.
I’m flagging, but at that moment I spy a lady holding out a tub of orange segments. She has the face of an angel and I so want a juicy orange. Just imagining the taste of citrus spilling onto my tongue makes my mouth water, the tangy sweetness … I make a beeline for her, but a man collides into me and we almost go tumbling down. My precious orange splats on the ground. We both laugh. Inside, I’m weeping because I didn’t get my orange. Instead, I make do with an orange-flavoured gel stashed in my back pocket. It’s disgusting. But it contains caffeine and after washing it down with some water the effects start to kick in and my weary legs start to move again. At 21 miles I dare to glance at my watch. I realise that if I keep going I’ll complete the course in under four hours. OMG that would be amazing!!!!
Before I know it, we’re running along Cannon Street and then Blackfriars and the underpass and onto the Embankment to the sound of Rita Ora’s Hot Right Now blaring out from humongous speakers. People are yelling like crazy and I see the London Eye and Big Ben and I know I’m almost there. It’s like entering the gates of heaven and I’m so happy that I want to stop and cry. Except I can’t – not now I’ve spotted Colin Jackson, the former world champion 110m hurdler!!!! I so want to high five him and I do. He probably thinks I’m a complete nut job.
We go under Waterloo Bridge and we have a mile to go, closer and closer to the end. And the crowd is cheering, there are flags waving, hands waving. Everyone’s going mental. And I go bonkers when I see the Better Half and my friends standing at Westminster. I sprint over, but I’m probably not sprinting – it’s more like a shuffle and a shimmy.
I run alongside a man whose expression of pain mirrors my own. St James’ Park is a canopy of green. There’s something special about springtime in England. Less than a kilometre to go, then 800 metres, towards Buckingham Palace … My leg is cramping … 400 metres then 200 metres …the finish line’s ahead … And … I’m done.
3 hours, 48 minutes. To say I’m over the moon is an understatement. Adrenalin is the best drug in the world because as soon as I stop, my ankle throbs.
The following day it will swell to the size of a tennis ball and I’ll wince as I pull my skinny jeans over it. My oldest daughter will think nothing of the torn ligament, nor the ouchy on my knee because it’s not as big as the ones she’s had. My middle daughter will sneak away my medal like the kleptomaniac that she is. And my youngest will scream, Mummy! at me before returning to her Peppa Pig books. I’ve raised over £4,700 for Walkabout Foundation. I’ve run 26.2 miles. I hated the training but enjoyed the day. Way, way back, I ran Stockholm and New York. They pale in comparison to London.
Thankfully, I don’t need to eat any more bananas, and I’ve poured the last of the beetroot juice down the sink. My Hokas have gone on sabbatical. As a present to myself I will get a bike. But not a racing bike or a mountain bike … It’ll probably look something like this …
Thanks for all your support and wishes.