Thursday, 30 April 2009

I did it!

London Marathon, 26.2 miles, Greenwich Park-Cutty Sark- Tower Bridge- godawfulugly bit of docklands-Canary Wharf-TB- Embankment-Westminster-The Mall->the nearest pub!

I know I passed all of these places because since doing so I have studied a marathon route map and watched every minute of coverage of the event on BBC iPlayer.

But I have no witness, the camera present at the finishing line holds no evidence that I crossed it, and in all honesty I do not recollect it either. Vague memories of summoning the strength to lift my arms and look to the sky linger, but I am disquieted by the fact that Matt and my Dad were sitting in honoured positions by the finish and DIDN'T SEE ME go passed! Nor did the camera footage apparently, rolling since the moment they got a call from my cousin on Birdcage Walk reporting a 'struggling katie' having just crept past.

So apart from the fact that the chip on my right trainer awarded me a time of 4 hours 11 minutes 57 seconds, there is no proof that I did do it- or that I RAN it.

But I have started at the end...It is such a blur. And so emotive, still. What a day...

So, the weather reports lied. It was going to be hot, that was evident from the time my alarm went off at 6am, and I stirred my porridge breakfast looking out at the bright blue, cloudless sky.

It didn't matter. The day had finally arrived and I was excited!

Tubes filled up with friendly people in lycra, and by the time I got off at Embankment I felt like I was on a Right To Run protest, being carried up Villiers St by impassioned crowds headed for Charing Cross to pillory an obese Ford executive! Trains filled up, and more crowds conjoined to carry me to Greenwich Park this time. There was no opportunity to get lost!

It was super organised in the park, tea and coffee on offer, massive TV screens, no need to resort to the pee-mate at the Female Urinals because plentiful portaloos meant queues moved swiftly. I had a wander and enjoyed all the amazing costumes synonymous with the London Marathon, barmy on this not so balmy day. But the ultimate insanity was the sight of a chap skulking sheepishly round the back of a tea tent, donning his running kit...and a fag!!! Now, I am no temple of health and will admit to a few drops of the old (brandy-infused) Rescue Remedy earlier on the train. But a cigarette??? Before running a marathon???


Now, my little plan to advance my pen number. I had prepared for the ram raid by lowering the number on my vest so that the pen number (8) printed on to the lower left hand corner was hidden by my running belt and my tutu. I had also been resourceful and printed out the results of the Duchy 20- proof of my previous 9 minute mile pace. Although if I had to resort to this I had a feeling it would be a case of Computer Says No.

It was luck in the end, the entrance to pen number 6 loomed ahead of me and on the back of two runners being refused entry I marched between them with confidence. My heart pounding, I was in!!! Then came the naughty feeling, will I be found out? Will the legitimate inmates turn on me?? I sat in the shade, marvelled at the marathon tagged girls stuck on the wrong side of the fence with minutes to go, and kept my guilty number 8 covered.

9.45 arrives. Excitement, then movement ripples down the pens. Serious runners make a bolt to overtake before the starting line. I am pleased with my cheeky advancement so elect to conserve fuel. My loved ones receive a text, courtesy of Adidas, to let them know that I crossed the starting line at 9.50, only 5 minutes after the gun was fired.

Oh my, what a feeling. People line the route right from the start, I spot the black and white flag of St Piran and yell "Trelawney's army!" to more cheers. Outside a church, a priest, flanked by two altar boys, flicks holy water over us. Kids hold out their hands to be slapped by we merry marathoners. A pub is dressed up Hawaiian style, with steel drums. Another pumps dance music and sprays confetti from a balcony. The african drums under the fly-over around mile 5 (an annual fixture apparently) make my hairs prick up on end and I feel so alive and happy I could scream.

I make the effort to applaud all the bands we pass: church choirs, school orchestras, karaoke stars, jazz bands, even bell ringers. They are brilliant! How kind of them to come out and entertain us!

I am surprised by my obedient instinct to stop in the middle of the road at every red light, and chuckle to myself as I rebel.

There are a few hills and a few hazards, namely at water stations, where the running path turns into a battle ground. I incurred some hearty kicks in the dash to drink. And more potential danger when the bottles were irresponsibly discarded. Then we hit the Cutty Sark and almost draw to a standstill. There is nothing to gawp at, just a canvas, and a path suddenly half the width.

I start to notice the other adornments to running vests, names or photos of loved ones lost. I burst into tears when I realise the man ahead of me is "running with his wife, Roma->" in spirit rather than body. So many moving, heart-breaking stories. I think how fortunate I am, and feel the weight of this event as a life-saver.

Mile 9 is the first of five pre-arranged Rawson Support Spots,
Matt excelled as cheering and rent-a-crowd co-ordinator, but had neglected to specify which side they would be on. Nervous not to miss them, I turn up my peripheral vision and soon spot more Kernow flags and a few See You Jimmy hats framing friendly faces. Yay! They made it! I like running my myself usually and being swept along by strangers can be oddly lonely. I am uplifted by their cheers and smiles and screams of excitement as their bubble of anticipation bursts, and I'm flying again!


Mile 10 came with the pleasure of reaching double figures. I was clocking 9 minute miles and keeping an eye on the Runners World sub 4 hour pacer. I ran with a woman called Sam for a few miles, she was a policewoman running for the Met, although she wasn't foolish enough to advertise that on her kit...

Tower Bridge, half way.

But I was not struck with euphoria, instead it was more of a glass-half-empty feeling I am afraid. Not that I wasn't enjoying it. It's just the long unchartered distance suddenly dawned on me. And for the last 2 hours it had been an effort overtaking people, ducking and diving, trying to squeeze by at every opportunity without hurting myself or anyone else. At times I felt very short. It was so hard to keep up an even pace, and I was tired of dodging feet, bottles, raised pavements and walkers.

Looking back (as I have been constantly, in conversation, day dreams, diaries and sleep for the last 72 hrs) the first half of the race is so vivid to me. I was lapping it all up, fascinated, I didn't want to miss a thing. But after Tower Bridge and heading along the Highway (the sub 2.30 runners blasting towards Embankment on the other side of the road), the experience was much more internal.

I had the Richard House cheer point at 14m to look forward to, and though they were easy to spot with banners on this boring, straight road, it also marked disappointment- no familiar faces to go with the familiar logo adorning my vest. My family had not made it to rendez-vous 2.

Somewhere along that road I glimpsed a dark place, a hole. And it scared me, how easy it would be to fall into it.

I was starting to feel tired, cramp in my right shin was ever present but not painful enough to justify stopping. I kept taking my SiS Gel sustenance and water, and remember grabbing jelly babies out of an excited onlookers sweaty hand. I think it was lonliness, maybe boredom. I was still hitting the times on the 4 hour pace guide strapped around my wrist, but it was hard. And I dreaded the imminent mile when I would find myself slipping a whole minute over schedule and defeat on the horizon.

I didn't understand why I felt so bad so prematurely. I had run a 20 mile race in 9 minute miles despite cornish gradients and weather, London was supposed to be easier! What had I done wrong?

My support team came to my temporary rescue. 'Oggy oggy oggy' beckoned me to the top of an incline before mile 18. But they had pitched up opposite the Runners World stand, from where I needed to grab another energy gel. The dilemma was quickly resolved: my loyal fans deserved my attention for their trouble, and I got a different kind of energy on the left side of the road.

Of course, the missing gel led to more doubt and it was kind of a relief to meet the next mile marker well over my deluded dream sub-4 schedule. Now I didn't have to clock watch, now I just had to run.

As I write I am pleading with myself to find a new goal, press on, dig in, defer to plan B and consult that 4 hr 10m pace guide, make that glass 3/4 full, the hardest bit is over, a mere 10k to go! Please, Kate, ENJOY the ride! How true the adage that pain is so easily forgettable in retrospect.

One minute my head is strong, strong enough to gauge that my body is weak. The next my body is flowing, leaning forward, but my head is scared and restricts pace, in case the intense beating of my heart (engaged or burdened?) turns into the first female fatality of the FLM.

Showers brought delicious relief from the heat, and frequent 'Nice tutu, Kate. Keep going!', kept me out of that hole. And eventually I gave into the discomfort of my bouncing bursting bladder and found a discreet spot to crouch and tinkle in my tutu. But my legs were....heavy. So heavy. And the cramp didn't subside.

In training, and in the first half of this marathon, various bits of me had hurt but I had ignored it and pressed on. My brain distracting and fixing. I was proud of having honed this skill. But its performance after 20 odd miles was evidently flawed!

"Tall and strong, tall and strong, 4 miles to go, 4 miles to go", that is a simple jog to Hammersmith Bridge and back. I tried to trick myself by focusing on the ground and counting or chanting long enough to look up and find the next mile marker in view. Sometimes it worked and I was pleasantly surprised, sometimes it didn't and I despaired to turn another corner with no green and yellow balloon arch in sight.

More support at 23.5, friends offer me one of the two bottles of drink I had prepared. 'Do you not have the other one?', I manage to bark- there is no energy for pleasantries. My poor devotees are rewarded for their patience and determination by my ingratitude. As I plod on, without the lemonade I craved, I feel guilt and disappointment, as well as nauseous and faint.

Even the crowds were irritating me now: Would you just shut the f*** up and leave me alone! You never wave back when I make the effort. What do you know about my agony?!

And don't get me started on the Sri Lankans refusing to be impressed by my near-accomplishment on Parliament Square...

Even with a mile to go my head allowed no respite, in fact now I was so close, I had everything to lose! Such cruelty! The cramp had moved up to my thigh and I daren't speed up for glory in case I twisted something and, heaven forbid, had to WALK!

I 'struggled' along Birdcage Walk and up the Mall. It was unrecognisable to me, a blur as so many of those last miles had been. The landmarks of Embankment, and even Buckingham Palace, had given way to their marathon identity, beacons that will lead to stopping soon.

Even the sweat band on my wrist was causing unnecessary heat now. I tossed it to the ground, gave up on trying to spot faces in the stands, and instead focused all my energy on that last arc of green and yellow balloons.

So it was Adidas again that communicated my having completed the Flora London Marathon 2009, my arms raised to the sky for a little bit of exhausted glory.

Overwhelmed. Grateful! And waddling.

They make you climb another incline to receive your medal, would you believe? But it is a very beautiful medal :)

Dazed and bewildered, I obeyed the marshalls and dragged my limbs to pick up my possessions, cursing my indulgence of classing three flavours of milkshake and yesterday's Guardian supplements necessities to be packed in my heavy kit-bag.

There was an eerie calm. All around me was quiet emotion, people in pain, agony, immobile, reunited with loved ones and grateful to be alive.

I had done it! We had all done it! Joined an elite group who could say they had run a marathon, and raised millions of pounds for charity.

WOW!


And now.... I cannot wait to do it all again!




(sore) Footnote

In all the excitement of finishing I neglected to stretch my weary muscles and have consequently spent the last 4 days groaning at the burn of going down stairs and having to lower myself to any sitting position with my arms. My legs are bruised too, from collisions in the race to rehydrate at the Vittel stations.

Two baths in Epsom Salts a day, heavy legs raised and frequently 'iced', I managed to shuffle to Acton train station today, pointing my knees in the right direction and hoping that the muscles that aren't torn to shreds will comply when I lean forward and leave the rest to gravity.

I also have waves of narcolepsy, forgive my audacity if I nod off mid conversation.

My fingers in working order, I trawled through all the footage from our camera and was disappointed to find not a single frame of me approaching the finish.

And then this...


Did you get that?? No. Look behind the chap in the white t-shirt:




After many hours of painstaking peering, and aid in the form of my official MarathonFoto (which gave clues to who I was running with) I can say with confidence that I ran to the line.

Hurrah!


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