In it for the long run: marathon day
So where to begin? Sunday 17th April 2011: London Marathon day. As anyone following this blog will know the fact that I was getting up at 6.00am to take part was achievement enough. After a week of injury hell I was so delighted to be joining the race everything else seemed somewhat irrelevant.
From the moment I got on the tube I knew it was going to be a good day. About half the carriage was marathon runners, all clutching their red kit bags and laughing and chatting nervously. I sat next to a lovely woman who was on her sixth marathon and full of encouragement and advice. When she got off earlier she gave me a big hug. That was pretty much the sentiment of the day, total strangers became your buddies by the mere fact that you are sharing the experience.
The organisers advise you to get to the start an hour before you head off and that’s good advice, if only because of the queues for the toilets. Going to the loo takes on a whole new meaning on marathon day. Female urinals and weeing in the bushes with total strangers both proved to be firsts I wasn’t expecting from the day.
And then before you could think if you needed another wee or not, it is time to hand in your kit back and join the throngs in the pens. The gun goes off, everyone cheers and then… nothing. It takes several minutes before you can even get moving at a snail’s pace if, like me, you’re near the back.
In total 35,303 people lined up for this year’s London Marathon and it is an incredible experience running with that many people. The only thing on my mind was how my hip would hold out. I started steady, felt the discomfort and decided I could live with it as long as it stayed at that level.
I’ve read other people’s mile by mile accounts of what it’s like running London but I couldn’t write that if I wanted to. The miles were, quite honestly, a blur. My strategy was simple: cope with the pain, keep my head up and smiling, not worry about timings, have faith in the training and just to keep running. And it worked.
The 26 miles broke down into chunks for me. I decided to take the first six miles as they came; on any training run it always seemed to take six miles to relax into the running. By the time I’d got to six I only had four more to do to reach ten miles, when I could call my family to pre-warn them to look out for me, as they were at 11 miles to cheer me on.
After that boost at 11 it was only a couple more to half way. At the half way stage I mentally said to myself ‘only a half marathon to go and I can run a half marathon’.
It has to be said by this point I’d been through Greenwich and over Tower Bridge which were two of the highlights both in terms of the crowds and the sights.
After Tower Bridge you head away from town to the Docklands which I always thought would be the hardest bit but I just kept going and enjoyed the crowds and my fellow runners. It is one of the most sobering experiences to see what some people put themselves through to raise money for charity. From the firemen in full gear, the dancing man, Roman gladiators and seven foot teddy bears to name but a few. And that’s not to mention the memorial photos and dedications on the back of people’s shirts that are heart-warming and tragic in equal measure.
So through the Docklands I trudged, more and more people had started to walk by then and it’s one of the trickiest things to weave through them. I found my legs could keep going, slowly one in front of the other, but stopping or changing direction was nigh on impossible. It was a warm day, too warm for comfort, so the showers and occasional fire stations where the fireman sprayed their hoses on the runners were very welcome.
In this stretch I was saying in my head ‘I can run 22 miles’ to get me to that marker. At 22 miles my family were there again and you cannot underestimate how important it is to have those points along the way. I had my name on my top and total strangers shouting ‘go on Jane’ was similarly uplifting. As were fellow Shelter runners who would always say hello.
After 22 miles Tower Bridge is in sight and you know you’re on your way home. I had a friend and her kids at Blackfriars Bridge so again I called ahead to her. This strategy was great for breaking up the miles. I saw them and knew I could do the final few miles. I kept telling myself ‘you can always run another three miles’.
Embankment is amazing. The crowds are huge and I was grinning like a mad woman. It is such an incredible experience to be running through central London to those throngs. And then, out of the chaos, I heard a loud ‘Jane’ and there were some friends I wasn’t expecting at the side of the road. It was a phenomenal lift.
I looked at my watch and knew I’d be close on a five hour finish. My original — pre hip problem — aim had been four and half hours but I’d not checked my pace at all during the race and been very happy with how it had gone. It was a great feeling to know I didn’t care what the finish time was because in the end, for me, it wasn’t about that.
The final 800 meters did feel quite long and then before you know it, it’s over. Five hours and two minutes later, in my case. No walking, constant slow running. I never hit the wall and never thought I couldn’t do it. I had a couple of panics over the pain in my hip and feeling light headed but managed to calm myself down and get through it.
At the end I thought I’d weep and weep but apart from a brief quiver of the lip I was elated.
Without fail, everyone who had run London before had said to me, just enjoy it. And I did. In some ways I think the injury helped. I didn’t push myself for a time, I was glad just to be taking part, I didn’t worry about the heat, I just focused on coping with the pain and enjoying it.
Every London marathon runner has their story but what I took away most from the day were two things. Firstly, if there is a Big Society, this is it in action. London Marathon is the single biggest charity money-raising event in the world. On this day good runners and poor runners all come together, after months of hard training, and raise money for charities big and small. For some there are very personal reasons and for others they put themselves through huge hardship to complete the race. I fell into neither camp but I raised several thousand pounds for Shelter and I’m very proud of that.
And the other thing I took away from the day was how brilliant London can be. I’ve lived here for years and in the main love it. But on Sunday I loved it with a passion. You can pretty much count on one hand the parts of the race which are spectator-free. For the most part every inch of that route is lined with cheering supporters: shouting, clapping, singing, dancing, drumming, cheer-leading, drinking, partying, barbecuing, bag-piping and high-fiving all the way.
It is a sight to behold as you run it. The shout of encouragement from a total stranger can be a very special thing. For marathon runners do not succeed in isolation and you don’t have to be Paula Radcliffe to have a team behind you. I feel honoured and humbled by the encouragement and support I got from my friends and family. My husband and kids have had to put up with my angst as well as my absence, my friends have let me bore them with my training exploits, my physio has pummelled my muscles into submission and many, many people, including strangers and long-lost colleagues, have sponsored me.
And yes, I would do it again in a flash.
Jane is running the London Marathon in aid of Shelter. http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JaneBainbridgeTagged in: London Marathon, running, Shelter
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