Musings - My First, on The Virgin London Marathon...


*You might want to listen to THIS (one of my favourite tracks to run to) whilst you read this...

I thought for a long while about what I would write about my personal experience of training for, and running in, the Virgin London Marathon back in 2011. I considered mentioning how it was the hottest London Marathon on record (not particularly a fact, just my feeling on that day...); and I also considering telling anecdotes about the other runners, including a pantomime horse that ran a few strides ahead of me, for the last ten miles, stopping occasionally to remove it's head and throw up. But then I thought "No! I will NOT give a piss-take account of taking part in one of the most emotional sporting events in the world...".

"If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon." Emil Zatopek
I would like to add that running in that event, two years ago, was the FIRST experience I had ever had of the epic London event. I had never watched it on TV, and had purposely avoided watching any past coverage when I received my place in the ballot. It's strange, when I now think back, that I entered the marathon's ballot in the first place - given my complete ignorance to what the run would involve, or rather, demand, from me. But my sister (pictured to the right) happened to make a flippant comment along the lines of "I'll do it, if you do it..." and that was it, we were both committed to the 'dare'! Not only that, Mum No.2 (other people would possibly term her as my 'step-mother', but that doesn't do it for me) also decided she'd run with us; which meant we were all rooting for one another, both in training and on the day itself. But, I digress, all this is for another post, on another day - because tonight's blog is written by my Mum. She doesn't know it yet (!) but I'm taking the liberty of cutting and pasting the piece she wrote back in 2011, after coming to support me in my efforts... 
When you've read it, I think you'll understand why I believe I couldn't possibly do any better. Enjoy. 

(Love you, Mum)

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The Loneliness of the long-distance spectator 


And still they came, runner after runner, mile after tortuous mile. Many exhausted, many inexhaustible but all showing determination in every movement of their bodies. On they came; the brides, the super-heroes, the oversize drink bottles, the enormous stuffed teddy-bears and, even, bizarrely, three armadillos. On they came, wearing the colours of their chosen charities proudly on their chests like some fabled Knights of Old, they ran toward their Holy Grail - a tawdry, small piece of tin on a ribbon. On they came, striving to finish the 26.25 miles, come hell or high water, and for some that’s exactly what it would be.
I had travelled down to London to support my daughter, not a seasoned long-distance runner I might add and, intending to go to various points on the route, I had taken an emergency pack with me; blister plasters, energy drink, refreshing wipes, but no-one had warned me to take my mascara, as I would cry almost all of the day. It started on the tube going into the city when I decided to write my motivational message to my daughter on the board provided, my fellow passengers saw this and began to ask questions about my daughter and to give me encouraging words and congratulatory good wishes, the enormity of it all began to dawn on me. On surfacing into the sunlight from the depths of the subway, to be faced with thousands and thousands of already cheering supporters at Tower Bridge, emotions began to bubble inside me, and the tears began. Bands played along the route and, as I pushed my way through hundreds of people towards the half-way mark, from the Radio London stand came the strains of the Village People and the runners went passed on a spurt of energy, their arms spelling out “Y.M.C.A.” in the air in time to the music and the cheers roared from the crowd. The emotion built with every minute and every song, and the air above the heads of the spectators blossomed with boards with “Go for it Craig” and “We’re with you Jacky” and “We love you Dad” proudly emblazoned upon them. Progress became difficult, impossible in places and, forcing my way through the hoards of excited people towards the tube station again, I thought of my daughter, a small figure somewhere amongst these thousands of runners, toiling in this scorching mid-day sun and I was glad my sun-glasses hid my reddened eyes. 

Surfacing once more from the tube station at Embankment to more emotional scenes on the banks of the Thames: I pressed through the crowds again to the side of the road at Mile 25, wondering why there seemed to be a Mexican wave of cheers all along the route, and I then caught sight of the object of these cheers: One of the wheel-chair runners, without lower limbs, bent double over the wheels and pulling himself along, nose almost touching the road, agony in every movement, his back exposed and burnt in the sun but with determination in every line on his face. I was reduced to a whimpering wreck.
I had gone to support my daughter but had failed to see her on many points of the run due to my inexperience as a spectator. There should be some sort of rule book for spectators. I frequently came up from the subterranean underground to find myself on the wrong side of the road/bridge/river and by 2pm had made my way with a strong sense of failure, disappointment and weariness to our final agreed point of contact at the side of the Embankment, only to find myself, once again. on the wrong side of the road. At this point the rule book would have instructed me to make my way to a crossing point and wait and wait, together with hundreds of other anxious cattle, to be finally herded across the road by wardens who were employing a clever if complicated technique involving the diverting of the runners with tape. I will never look at sheep-dogs in the same way again. 
And so, from my final, comfortable position on one of the hosting charity boats on the Thames next to Embankment, I watched them all complete the last uncomfortable few miles: The good, the bad and the ugly, cheered on by thousands of families, friends and good-wishers, all willing them to make it to the end. Those final miles were torture, but an exquisite torture entered into with determination and conviction by all concerned. I am too young to have witnessed the Spirit of the Blitz but I believe then I was part of that same spirit – and London was alight with it. 
My daughter finished in five hours 25 minutes, disappointing to her who had counted on four and a half hours but who had not counted on aggressive blisters and a sprained ankle after the first few miles, together with an unseasonably scorching hot day. After an emotional reunion where she limped towards me, scarcely able to walk and near to fainting, dark circles under her eyes, patches of dried salt all over her body and still damp from the constant (if welcome) showers given by the fire-fighters en route, we made our way slowly to the crowded tube to be greeted with cries of “let the runners sit down” and many words of congratulations from the normally mute passengers. 

Today, post-marathon, my daughter sits and rests her ankle, reflecting on the many sights she has witnessed and the glory she has felt, wearing her medal proudly, one of the thousands of selfless people who gave up a day in April to follow their hearts and dreams. One of the thousands who, for me, have put a little of the ‘Great’ back into ‘Great Britain’. I, as a weak, ineffectual, spectator – salute you.


Me, the day after the marathon, happy to be alive!

Comments

  1. Very cool blog #2! (with an assist from your mum). Can't wait for the next one for sure!

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  2. Thanks Carl! Obviously can't take any credit for it this time; I'll pass on your enthusiasm to my Mum! :)

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  3. Cool! Only people like us (long distance runners/cyclers) can understand when your in training it's just you and the road but during a marathon there are people who would stop to help so even though it's still competitive, there's a feeling of togetherness :)

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    1. So true - such a lovely feeling of comraderie in these events... you've just got me signing up for another!

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    2. Haha, which marathon are you think of doing?

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  4. There's a reason I never usually read blogs; I tend to get bored mid-post because I just don't find them interesting. But yours aren't like that at all! I really enjoy reading what you post and I found this one to be really rather cute :).
    Your mother seems like such a lovely woman - you can see where you get it from. She must have been so proud of you :)
    I can't wait to see what you'll write next!

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    1. Thank-you so much Sarah, so complimentary!! I'll pass on your comments to Mum (she'll be chuffed)... just hope I can live up to your blogging expectations! :D

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  5. This is a really nice touch, whilst the stories and achievements of all the participants are as interesting as they are varied stories such as your Ma's are seldom told and it gives a really nice perspective. It's nicely written too.

    I once walked a marathon, inadvertently, whilst walking Hadrian's Wall and after losing my shoe in a bog, the fact no-one was there to see it was a blessing, the bullock I encountered on the way I do not wish to talk about. The whole experience did little to enthuse me to run one - though I do feel a mesmeric draw to Pamplona...

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    1. ...I'd recommend you go if you get chance, you might even meet a second cousin once removed of that bullock. What a tearful and emotional reunion that would be, of sorts.

      (And, FYI, there's a post just begging to be written there about Hadrian's Wall... I'd read it, anyway...)

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    2. Ah well, that's just it, I did write it, but I'm afraid not nicely tied up and neat like your one entry but a full Walkalogue! - If you wanted to read it, it is here: http://roterbaron.wordpress.com/category/hadrians-wall/ - you have to start from the bottom. Exams available on request!

      I have no desire for any other close quarter contact with bullocks, relatives of the evil northern one or otherwise!

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