I am reading the back of the lady’s t shirt in front of me, it says:
“I am running to help cure Meningitis
For Amy, sleep safe in heaven our beautiful angel”
Beneath the words is a picture of an infant, not more than a year old.
I feel myself welling up and we haven’t even started moving yet, let alone running. This won’t be the last time I will be moved like this today. It is 10:08am on Sunday April 26, 2015 and I am lining up with my fellow runners, waiting for the Virgin London Marathon flag off. I quickly realise that this is not simply 38,000 athletes taking part in one of the world’s premier sporting events. This is 38,000 stories; stories of sadness, tragedy, adversity, grief; but each and every one a story of courage, immense courage. I immediately feel honoured and humbled to run shoulder to shoulder with these amazing people.
The London Marathon is many many things, but above all it is the perfect confluence of everything that is good about being human. And not just the thousands of runners, whose months of commitment and training through winter has prepared them to face 26.2 miles of sweat, exertion, pain, tears and elation. But also the thousands of people who come out to support, you (you know who you are!) – ALL 750,000 of you – are amazing too, this incredible day would not be the same without you, and many of us runners would probably not make the finish line without you either!
I’m not sure what I was expecting from this world famous event to be honest, a supersized version of the 1/2 marathons I have run maybe? Maybe I just hadn’t given it a much thought, more focused on planning for the run; training programme, kit choices, fuel strategy, route to the start, pace etc. In a nutshell all about me really. I know I hadn’t anticipated the experience of a lifetime that would unfold from Greenwich to Pall Mall, I hadn’t anticipated the emotional roller-coaster, the immense support along the way, the privilege of running this great city, exploring new neighbourhoods, seeing the sights and all from the middle of the road! I hadn’t expected a buzz and natural highs way past any party, club, gig or rave. Nor had I expected the drum bands, bagpipes, jazz bands, DJs, sound systems, roadside parties, woofers jammed into open windows… I hadn’t expected a road race that felt like running through 26.2 miles of Notting Hill Carnival!
There are many moments along the route of this iconic marathon when you actually do feel like an Olympic athlete, cheered on by thousands of people. I had no idea how potent this is, believe me when total strangers cheer you by name, either look you in the eye with thoughtful words of encouragement, or scream at you like you are the new member of One Direction the boost you feel is unbelievable.
It is an incredibly crowded run too though and this does perhaps prevent you from settling into an even pace. At times in the first 15 miles when feeling strong I felt a little held back and boxed in by the hoards, with people slowing down or stopping in front. You do spend a lot of energy going sideways and nipping around people! At about 12 miles my watch was bumped onto pause in a particularly crowded section, and I lost about 3 minutes before restarting it. This flustered me a bit but I calmed down and reminded myself that my training plan had taught me to ‘feel’ my pace and go with my senses, so I decided to just enjoy the journey and pressed on, no longer relying on the Garmin bleeping. But these niggles, along with flying water bottles do fade into insignificance as this run really is the most fun I’ve had in Lycra, ever!
The first 15M seemed to fly by and I felt great, I found 18 – 21 the toughest when everything seemed to hurt and feel very heavy. I knew my family was at the mile 24 mark and that kept me going. And I managed to see them too, which is a miracle amongst so many spectators and everyone shouting your name. So a quick pause for kisses and encouragement and off again with renewed vigour for the last 2.2 miles. From mile 24 to the finish you do get another natural boost as the crowds quite literally seem to ‘go wild’ and every step takes you closer to the finish.
Crossing the finish line is one final gargantuan rush of emotion. Yes there is an amazing sense of accomplishment and achievement but that’s not what brings you to tears. While pushing yourself to your outer limits during this run the exertion, exhaustion, pain and emotion are all countered by a bombardment of love, support, belief, passion, determination and above all bravery. In the London Marathon you become immersed deep in human spirit; the human spirit that enables people to rise up against adversity, to fight on, to take the worse nightmares that life can throw at you and find positivity, to put one foot in front of the other and to quite simply keep on going. Believe me this is powerful stuff, and this is what causes you to sob as you cross that line.
As for my own story? Well, 10 years ago my mother underwent open heart surgery. The treatment extended her life allowing her enough time to know all of her grandchildren, something my family will be eternally grateful for. So, in her memory I ran to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation, for other families like mine whose lives might be changed by the research and treatment the BHF supports.
If you have liked my post and can find it in your heart to visit my fundraising page (here) to make a small donation I would be truly thankful, even £1, $1, €1… any amount will make a difference.
I overheard somebody at the start say that with so many runners you don’t get to run your own race at the VLM, you run everyone else’s race. Well that’s ok with me, 37,675 heroes went for a run through London last Sunday and I am proud to have run amongst them.