It’s that time of year again; the time of year when seasoned runners mix with first-time marathon virgins to run the 26.2 miles of the London Marathon. Why am I writing about this? Well I went to the Marathon Expo in London yesterday and I got thinking about my first marathon and how so much has changed between then and now.
26.2 miles is not to be sniffed at. It’s a hard distance and one which should not be undertaken lightly. The London Marathon was my first marathon race. I can recall the day in 2006 clearly as if it were yesterday. Things had not been easy for me leading up to the start line. Only 10 months earlier I had suffered an enormous crash on my mountain bike; separating my shoulder, breaking my rib cage and puncturing both my lungs. The last thing on my mind, as I sat there on the Ridgeway slowly becoming hypoxic, was any thought of running. In fact, the thing that took up most of my thoughts, as the morphine numbed my system, was the fact that I wanted to dance with the female paramedic who was trying to lead me across a field to the waiting helicopter that would whisk me away to the John Radcliffe Hospital, thus saving my life. This was accompanied some eight month later, by me breaking my third metatarsal in a 10k training race the January before the London Marathon. Things were not going right in my preparation for my first marathon!!
26.2 miles! It was the furthest that I had ever thought about running and I was nervous. I was also cold! I think that God was not happy with me urinating on the rose bushes in Greenwich Park (to be fair, I was not the only one and the queue was enormous) and the rain came down. It was freezing and completely caught me off guard. I should have brought a plastic bag/bin liner to wear prior to the race. These are easy to remove and keep you warm and also they cost nothing like a jumper or coat. But the rain was not meant to last and soon I was queueing up at the indicated point that I believed represented my finish time. I think I chose four hours.
My foot had mended as much as it was ever going to by the start of the race and I was hopeful that I could make the distance. The start of the race found me to be exceptionally calm as I stared ahead towards the line of people moving and pushing their way out of Greenwich Park; onto the closed roads of London. The run seemed to pass in a blur, as I wound my way across Tower Bridge, turning right towards the Isle of Dogs. However, I did note several things. The first was the enthusiasm of the crowd. It was electric, addictive and also resonated happiness and support. I’d never experienced anything like it, which was handy because, passing the Cutty Sark, I sprained my left ankle which meant that the right leg became dominant. This would not have been a problem but for the fact that my right foot was the one that I had broken! By 15 miles I was in agony; every footfall felt like an iron nail being pushed into the foot repeatedly!
The lonely stretch from me was the Isle of Dogs. I felt tired and in pain and also being psyched out by the elite runners already leaving the Isle of Dogs and heading towards the finishing line. It was at this point that I met a fellow runner (also running for the Antony Nolan trust) whose name is Quentin Somerset and whom I still consider to be a good friend to this very day. Quent motivated me to dig deeper into my resolve to finish this long-distance; and persevere I did. I pushed myself across the cobbled streets and out of the Isle of Dogs and onto the Embankment. It was then I hit the wall.
My legs felt heavier than lead and my feet were a mass of pain; each footfall was now like walking on fire and to top it all I had run out of energy. It was at this point that a passing runner threw a carbohydrate gel at me with the words, “Get it down you!” The gel had the effect of rocket fuel. POW! I’d never used one before but I was glad that I did!
Taking the gel was a good move. I felt back on form and soon the Houses of Parliament rose up before me with a wall of cheering people in front. The route bore right and headed across Parliament Square. This was it! I was 600 yards away from finishing. I was shattered but my mind was fixed on the finish line as I followed the curve of the road around, again to the right, and onto the Royal Mall. I wanted, desperately, to ease off as the foot was just unbearable. However, I had had “ALEX” printed on the front of my race shirt and some good-looking girls were shouting out my name. I pushed forward towards the line keen to not look feeble with my broken foot. Just then another runner came up fast just behind my right shoulder; straining to get every ounce of energy utilised in getting himself across the line. I don’t know what happened, but a voice in my head said, “Not today! You are not passing me today!” I put my head down, ignored the pain and ran with every fibre in my foot screaming at me. I crossed the line in 4 hours and 25 min and stood still with hands on my hips breathing heavily. I looked away from the crowds and at the line of people ahead of me having their timing chips removed and told myself that this was as far as I was ever going to run!
This Sunday, thousands will run through the streets of London and realise a dream; fulfilling the promise of all those hours and miles spent training to cross that finish line. For some, this will be the furthest they will ever run. For others, it may be the start of further adventures in running, as it was for me. Who knows where running may take you….
Wishing all the very best of luck if you are taking part!!!