Friday 27th April 2012. Longest run = 26.2 miles (plus journey from Zone 9 to Blue Start line!)
Suze 1 - 0 London Marathon
Five days after the London Marathon. I am still buzzing from it! This is a long, rambly post about my day. You don't have to read it, but if you do, I have a feeling you will be signing up for next year before you know it :) And that was the aim of this blog all along!
So, Sunday. 22nd April 2012. My London Marathon day had arrived. It started really early, after a night of broken sleep. I kept waking up, wondering whether I had missed my alarm. I hadn't and at 6am woke to find the most spectacular sunset. I wondered whether it would be my last (oh the melodrama) or whether I would be seeing the sun rise on Monday as a medal winner or a complete failure. I got a lift to the station, and waited for the train (which took forever to arrive and was too short!). The majority of people on that train at 7am on that Sunday morning had a big red bag with them - the official Marathon kit bag, issued at registration, that we had to keep all of our things in. Conversations began, and it was clear that most people were very nervous. I was so nervous I was starting to feel light headed!
My journey involved a train up to East Croydon, changing for London Bridge and then changing again for Blackheath to get to Greenwich Park. On the train from London Bridge to Blackheath I got chatting to a lady, Julia, who had run two Marathons before, but was very encouraging. I was going to meet my friend Jo at Starbucks, Blackheath, but as Julia and I were both alone, we stuck together. Travel disruption meant that Jo didn't make it to the park until half eight, and as the phone lines were down due to heavy traffic of tens of thousands of people making final calls to loved ones, I didn't get any of her calls. Julia and I got some photos outside the start zone (we were both Blue Start, with the elite men!) and then headed in, deposited our baggage, grabbed a Lucozade and started to stretch and warm up a little. We were predicted rain, however the park was bathed in glorious sunshine. An encouraging sign! Greenwich Park (and the beautiful Royal Observatory within its grounds) is one of my favourite places in London, and being there is usually such a pleasure, but on this particular day to be there was more emotional than ever before.
As 9:45am approached, we started to make our way to the start line. We were all given a zone number, from 1 to 9 based on our predicted finishing time. From what I recall, when I completed my form, rather than put a time in, I said something along the lines of 'would be grateful to finish' - no surprise then that I was in zone 9, with various fancy dress characters. Julia was zone 8, however at this point, it was a big mass of people. 9:45am came, and with it some shuffling forward. We were, I would guess, at least a kilometre back from the start line, and so we needed to cover this ground too. Just after 10am, we turned the corner, were encouraged by Race Marshals to start jogging, and crossed that start line.
At registration, we were given a tracker tag to give us information about our own particular race, giving us times every five km, so I made sure that I stamped down hard onto the tracker strips crossing the course. What I didn't realise was that friends and family could track our progress in real time! If I had known that, I might have hurried up a little!
Starting the Marathon was a thrilling experience. I was so emotional, seeing all of these people lining the route, shouting my name (sometimes Suze, sometimes Princess Suze on account of me wearing a tiara and tutu to run, as suggested by friends that had donated!), and sometimes by very small children, 'Look! It's the Queen!' Children and adults held their arms out to the sides for us to high five as we ran past. Houses had speakers hanging out of front doors and windows, playing some brilliant music. As I turned my first corner I was hit with Journey's Don't Stop Believing, which I had hoped would be my Finish Line song, so it felt quite special to hear it during mile 2. The organisation of the Marathon is incredible. We were in a residential area, and whenever we encountered a speed bump, Race Marshals either side held signs and repeatedly sounded out the word HUMP! The runners tended to repeat it back to them as they ran over said humps. My friend Georgie had made me the most amazing Marathon playlist for my iPod, with 6.5 hours of music to keep me going (thank you Georgie Pie! x). I ended up only listening to three songs, each of which was during a bit of a low point, because for the remainder of the time you are enjoying the atmosphere of the crowds and hearing people shout your name! I am so pleased that I ironed my letters onto the front of my running shirt, which was another piece of advice from Jim Wild, who has run the Marathon previously.
In an attempt to save my hypermobile joints, my strategy to run the Marathon was to run for ten minutes and walk for five, thus reducing the impact on my ankles, knees, hips and back. Someone at the start line said that the best advice they ever received was if you think you're going slowly, go slower. I took his on board, and didn't push myself too much. Another saying that we heard a lot was that the first half was simply a journey to get to the second half, which was the real race test. Again, I took this on board. Counting up the number of miles remaining when you are mile two is a scary thought, but I carried on. Soon the start lines were going to merge. Blue Start runners were kept separate, and made to go around a round about before finally merging with the rest of the masses, and there was a little bit of an incline. The strangest thing was that I barely felt it, as the crowd screaming your name seems to take any muscle burn away. They should bottle that stuff. Or recruit brilliant London Marathon supporters to walk around ICU wards, making everyone instantly better.
As they say, what goes up must come down. Instead at this stage of the course, the course went downhill before we came back up again. It was going down this incline just after mile 3 that I overtook two people on stilts. And not the tiny kind, either! I ran in between them, feeling the smallest that I have ever felt - I am 4ft 10in, so it is a feeling I am generally used to, but this was extreme! The guys did brilliantly, and eventually overtook me when I was waiting at mile 16 in the queue for the toilets, finishing way before me! They said that they had bigger steps than I did (they did have an average stride of about 6ft) but I imagine theirs was a tougher task!
This part of the route was lined with people, music, and plastic pint glasses filled with cold, tempting beer! We had the support of a Sikh community that were playing some drums on the side of the road (or was that later on?), bands on the pavement playing music, and pubs with their doors wide open and music blaring. This is where the runners start to spot a theme in the choice of song. Keep On Running by the Spencer Davis Group (just had to Google that), We Are The Champions by Queen, good old Don't Stop Believing by Journey, and my absolute new favourite Marathon memory song, 500 Miles by The Proclaimers. When we were running past the pubs playing this, the crowd were doing the first 'Da-la-la-laah' followed by the runners, arms aloft, echoing them. It was an amazing experience, and a beautiful sight to see all of these people of different ages, from different backgrounds and professions and all the usual variety, united by such a primal movement and noise making! It still gives me butterflies thinking about it.
Going under the flyover through mile 6, there was an incredible drum group who I would love to see again. There were also some pretty hot guys playing in this band. In fact, there were some pretty hot guys supporting along the course route, screaming my name - typically I was looking my absolute worst! A Marathon is no time to pull ;)
I didn't notice when I crossed the Meridian line around the mile 6 mark. I only realised once I saw the 10K sign. When I looked left, I could see one of my favourite places in the world, the Royal Observatory, perched on top of that hill looking its usual spectacular self in the glorious sunshine, and all the buildings around the National Maritime Museum that give me goose bumps.
As I had a run-walk strategy, and I was conscious of not burning out too soon so that I could run key parts of the course, like Tower Bridge and the final few yards up from Buckingham Palace, I tried desperately to stick to my run-walk strategy of running for ten and walking for five. However, when I was approaching Cutty Sark, something happened and I just couldn't stop. I didn't want to stop. I wanted to enjoy every second of having the privilege of running around the newly rescued and opened Cutty Sark. So I ran. I waved at people perched on top of the Cutty Sark. I drank in that moment. Seeing the Thames in front of me, the Cutty Sark to my left, suspended in glass, breathtaking. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world at that moment, and still can't believe that it happened. I was one of those runners! After the Cutty Sark, I continued my run-walk strategy, usually chatting to others while walking, because some people were already having to give up on running due to injury, or were also alternating walking and running or walking the entire course.
At some point around Mile 8 or 9 I started my walking section, when a group of people stopped running and started walking next to me. A lady said hello Suze. I presumed she, like hundreds of others, was reading the name across my boobs. Then realised that I recognised that smile. 'Cat?!' I asked. She took her sunglasses off and said 'Yes!' It was Cat who I had met at the British Heart Foundation training day back in November! We had e-mailed a little, although not as much as I should have thanks to my thesis, but we were both smiling and doing it! She had been having concerns about her knees, but she was doing so well! She was with the 5.something hour run/walk group who run for five minutes and walk for one minute. I haven't caught up with her yet, but I am sure she did wonderfully, and with that big smile on her face too! Well done Cat! x
The next couple of miles were strange. I think this was where mind over matter was key for me. My miles remaining were now under 20, but with that came the terror that I still had almost twenty miles left, and I had only done six, and that felt like quite enough already, especially in the direct sunshine. Muscles were starting to ache, and my knees were twinging a lot when I stepped onto them. Not a pain yet, just a twinge. I can't remember whether it was on TV or in a Science Junkies show, but basically a lot of muscle fatigue pain is not actual pain, but your brain telling you to stop moving just in case you run out of oxygen, and that you should be able to think your way out of the pain and on a little further. I kept this in mind, and during my walk section I made friends with a girl called Kirsty, who was pretty down. She had started off with a 4.something hour pace maker, but had to drop back as she was in agony. We kept each other company for my five minute walk, and I encouraged her to jog a little with me. We did, and during this time, I noticed a banner hanging out of a window fluttering in the breeze. Then I saw my last name! I didn't think that one Kundu could run a Marathon, let alone two! Turns out, I was still the only Kundu in the village, as closer inspection revealed that it said 'Suze Kundu' on it. It was my friend Lewis in his flat in Surrey Quays. The route went straight past his place, and he and his friends came to the window to cheer us on after I shouted up! It was such a wonderful thing to see. No one has ever put my name on a banner! Not even a cab driver at Gatwick arrivals! It was a really special moment, and I felt loved enough to ignore the pain for another mile or two. Thank you Lewis and friends! x
Mile 11/12 was where things started to get really painful. Amazingly, my tendons that I was so worried about were fine, thanks to my leg warmers keeping them nice and loose and malleable back there. I didn't care about looking silly in them. I actually forgot I had them on! It was the knees that were starting to actually grate. This was the first time that I put my music on. As I said, gorgeous Georgie had made me a playlist. I put my iPod on, and listened to two songs. I felt a bit rude, as people were still saying my name, and I had been saying thank you all around the course up until now. I also felt isolated, separated from the united atmosphere, so the headphones came out and I think that the tunes took me through my first low moment of doubt. There was a buzz in the air, the sun was still shining, and suddenly I recognised the road crossing in front of me. Tower Bridge Road. One right turn to one of the most iconic stretches of the Marathon course. I had made it to the bridge. I was almost half way!
I started to jog when I turned onto Tower Bridge, but slowed to a walk while I took this photo. It was the only time I took my phone out of my pocket throughout the day until I finished, and it was then that I found some of the texts from friends had arrived as I had been running (phone lines had been down at the start due to traffic, so nothing came through by the time I had started). That encouraged me even more, so I picked my feet up, gritted my teeth through the knee pain, and ran over Tower Bridge. Again, the butterflies in my tummy must be on drugs, as they are going wild just remembering it!
Over the bridge, and right onto a part of the course where mile 13 and mile 23 are located side by side, with the two streams of runners running in opposite directions. I was three hours into my journey, and people were already at mile 23. They had run ten extra miles in the time it had taken me to do 13 miles! They are absolute superheroes. They looked exhausted. People were already hobbling, but carrying on. The difference that I noticed was that while they looked pained at mile 23, everyone at mile 13 was still smiling. I remained smiling throughout, even through the worst of my pain. Speaking of pain, this was where it was all starting to flare up, and the hypermobility decided to bite me on the bum. Well, on the lower back and knees, anyway! I got over the half way point, and on to mile 14, but both knees were hurting every step I took. I tried walking for a little longer than my five minutes, but it wasn't helping much. I stopped to chat to one of the many St. John's Ambulance staff stationed along the route, and they suggested going on to the bigger station half a mile down, as they may have a physio. I made it there (having been accosted by a wonderful Marshal who fancied a bit of a dance just after the mile 14 marker. I've not been asked to dance since a Whitgift School disco (aside from by an Imperial boy. While David Guetta's Sexy Bitch was playing. When I laughed in reflexive response. Awkward.)) and spoke to them. They looked at me, tutted at my hypermobility (not ideal to run a Marathon, you see) and set about strapping me up. Unfortunately they had no private booths available, so she would have to strap over my running trousers. My black running trousers. With off-white stretchy bandaging stuff. At this stage, I couldn't have cared less, as I just wanted to get moving again, but looking back now, it looks ridiculous :) I took the opportunity to strip in a corner to remove my base layer that was slowly roasting me like a salmon wrapped in tin foil. I didn't fancy doing it on the course, as knowing my luck, that would be the moment that my Mum turned the TV on to see cameras capture the moment. I've got away with her not seeing me at festivals broadcast on TV, and I wasn't going to break the trend during the Marathon ;) I sat down, got strapped up, and stuffed my face with Gummy Bears and a little nibble of my candy necklace (which was worn as a bracelet) from Steve (FYI runners, not only does the candy jewellery provide a great sugar boost, it also makes you smile every time you look at it! Thanks Steve! x). Fifteen minutes and two paracetamol later (for my lower back pain) I was back on the route alongside Peppa Pig and Spiderman. Naturally.
I had lost Kirsty a few miles back, and was wondering how she was getting on, when a mile or so later, I slowed from a pained run to a brisk jog and I saw her emerge from another St. John's Ambulance tent! In the time I had been getting strapped up, she had caught up with me, overtaken me, and even had time to feel faint :) She was feeling downhearted again, so I said we would continue together. I had realised by mile 15 that my knees were not going to last, although the strapping was taking a lot of the impact and actually allowing me to walk without too much excruciating pain. We were walking briskly towards the large buildings looming in the distance. We were heading towards Docklands. What concerned me was that she was keen to start running again, despite injury and dizziness, as she had agree to meet her parents at half three. It was already quarter to three by this point, and as much as I could encourage her, there was no way that she was going to run eleven miles in forty five minutes. Nevertheless, at mile 16 when I decided that I needed to pee (thinking about Michael Eavis' Glastonbury advice about peeing at least three times a day in hot weather, as any less was unhealthy!) she carried on, and I wished her luck. I hope she is OK and I hope she made it! I knew that if I ran any more, I wouldn't finish, so I decided to walk from this point. Queuing for the toilets, I made friends with two girls, Catherine and Keron, and a guy called Bill. They said that they were walking the rest, as they had also picked up injuries, and had just made friends on the course. Before I could ask whether I could join them, they ran to the free cubicles. I peed (better than a portaloo at a festival - clean and with loo roll! No hoverpee for me, or even that weird climb-on-and-straddle manoeuvre. Festival girls, you know what I mean. Boys, imagine. Actually, don't imagine!). I came out and amazingly they were standing waiting for me, smile on their face, and that was it. We were going to make it to the end by sheer safety in numbers. Statistically, we wouldn't all hit any walls at the same time, and we would drag each other through it.
So Docklands happened. Support was good. I spotted the BHF Heart Runners cheering team, which was great! The strange thing was that the place smells of amazing food (the aroma of steak and chips at mile 18 is HARSH!), but people were still out cheering us on. On we walked, chatting away, and before we knew it, the mile 20 marker was in the distance. This was a bit make-or-break for me, as I thought 'YES! 20 MILES DONE!' and on the other hand thought 'I have over a fifth to go and I am hurting so very much and I am sucking on a carbogel and I could do with stopping for Sunday lunch.' There were also some rather ominous rain clouds up ahead, as if someone had taken a 3B pencil and coloured the sky in. The girls saw a friend of theirs and we lost them just before the rain came. Bill and I were now bound together to the end, and honestly if it weren't for him, and knowing he was there, I couldn't have done it. I managed to wriggle back into my baselayer by shoving it inside my running top and squirming until arms went through sleeves and out of the holes in my running top. I wasn't going to strip in front of strangers! Then the heavens opened.
I hadn't realised it at the time, but I had managed to catch the sun on my cheeks, nose and forehead. When the rain started, the chemistry taking place on my face wasn't ideal. Sweat had crystallised into sandy salt crystals, which were now dissolving on my face and running into my eyes and all over my sunburnt face. Ouch! The impact of the rain on my face was also hurting. Volunteers and supporters were dishing out ponchos at mile 21, which I gratefully took. The rain was one thing, but the wind was another. I was freezing cold! Bill grabbed a foil blanket for me, and we carried on, fairly silently battling the weather, but moving nonetheless. Mile markers seemed few and far between at this stage, but we finally made it back to the Tower of London. It was just a stroll along the river, just a stroll, just a... *sigh*
The rain started to ease a tiny bit, and we were finally in the underpass near Blackfriars. We popped to the toilet, and when I came out we met a girl that was in tears, absolute floods of them too, walking the route with her friend (who was not running officially) who was trying to spur her on. Her feet were killing her, and the weather was getting her really down. I wasn't feeling my sparkliest at this point, but there is something about telling others that it will be OK that makes you believe it too. I told her to visualise being in the most beautiful shoes ever made, on a night out. Every girl (and many men) knows that the prettier the shoe, the more they will hurt you, carving into your feet and leaving behind blisters the size of Brazil. And what to we do in those situations? Grit our teeth, try and look fabulous and visualise the cab ride home. I would have loved to stay with her, but I knew she had her friend, so Bill and I continued.
We emerged from the underpass, encouraging a crying man we overtook to carry on as he was nearly there, and to perhaps go and join the crying girl for comfort (ever the matchmaker!). Walked past Temple station, and we were in familiar territory. We could see the London Eye. I said that once I could see Big Ben I would know I was almost home. Bill, who has run the Marathon before, said that in about ten steps I would see it and all would be well. I did just that, and guess what, there was Big Ben! There was the bend of the River Thames to get through, but we were nearly there. My poncho was so wet, as was I underneath it, that it had gone see through, and the cheers of 'Suze! Go Suze!' had started again. Huge credit to the supporters and spectators remaining at this stage. They had been stood still in that pouring rain, whereas at least we had been moving and keeping warm. And they were still cheering! It was then that I noticed a particularly rowdy bunch ;) I tell you, for three people, you lot don't half make a lot of noise! It was my friends, Megan, Louise and Paul. There were hugs and explanations of why I now looked like a zombie Princess thanks to my attractive bandaging and why I was crawling along (metaphorically, thank goodness), and I introduced them to Bill. Megan had to run (well, leave!) and Paul and Louise broke through the barrier to walk the remainder with us, which is just lovely! A few steps later, and I saw my parents! I didn't even notice crossing the mile 25 marker, I was just so pleased to see familiar faces. They were both very apprehensive about me doing the Marathon, and hadn't heard from me all day, whereas the others had been tracking my progress online (which I didn't know about!), but to see them looking a bit proud of me, and relieved I suppose, was amazing. I'll never forget their excited, smiling faces! They broke through the barriers too, before Mum realised that actually they walk at a glacial pace, and that they were being cheered on by the spectators too, so they ducked back out and walked to the finish line! Seeing the three of you and my parents there was amazing. Thank you! x
We were at Big Ben before I knew it, and I didn't even notice or look up because I was chatting about my Marathon story, and hearing about everyone else's stories of the day. And then the signs started. 800m TO GO! 600m TO GO! 400m TO GO! Before we knew it, we had turned the corner to find the 385 YARDS TO GO sign. We had made it. This was it! I turned to Bill and said that we had to run this bit. We had practiced running back at mile 21, but legs weren't working the way they should. I guess it was that final shot of adrenaline that killed the pain for long enough to get me over that line, and while using the term 'run' seems a little like false advertising, I teddy-bear-shuffled my stiff legs up The Mall and over that finish line. I didn't manage to play my Finish Line song on my iPod, but I was singing Don't Stop Believing as I crossed that line, remembering a really awful rendition of it on New Years Eve with Steve as I went up The Mall and laughing!
I had completed the London Marathon. I had raised over £1K for the British Heart Foundation. I had ticked something epic off my 101 list of things to go in my life. And I was smiling throughout all 7 hours, 16 minutes, 32 seconds of it! Yes, it took forever, but I finished!
We went through, got de-tagged and received our medals and goodie bag, both of which weigh enough normally, let alone after 26.2 miles! We walked to the luggage holding area. Well over thirty thousand people had already collected their baggage by this point, so remaining baggage was lined up in one area. Luggage marshal had my bag ready, so I collected this, and told my friends that I would find them in fifteen minutes, as I needed to get changed. I didn't really. I needed to put a pair of heels on.
Secretly, the thought of putting those boots on got me through the four miles of torrential rain and cold! I sat down, checked myself over (no blisters, as you can see in the photo, even though I thought I had one! Just a bit of sock-rubbing. Vaseline works!) and called my parents. I did my stretches that Full Potential had sent me after the BHF training session that I had stored on my phone, and met my parents.
We headed over to meet the others at the ICA for some well earned baked goods and rehydration! I had planned on having a lovely dinner somewhere, as I knew I would miss the BHF celebration party, but all I wanted to do was get home and have a bath. I ate a Hot Cross bun and some cake and a croissant, although my body was still adjusting to staying still, and it wasn't too keen on that. As soon as I stopped somewhere, I started to seize up! Home, bath, PJs and dinner. I had stuffed myself silly with treats so I wasn't overly keen on eating, but I ate some salmon and some vegetables to get some recovery protein in my tummy. Then the exhaustion hit. I went from being perky and adrenaline fuelled to a complete crash. My knees were killing me, the right one more than the left, so I had some paracetamol, and crawled into bed. Medal still around my neck.
I remember having running dreams, clearly reflecting on the day that I had just had, but they were all happy, relaxed dreams. And I woke up with my medal around my neck! I had wondered whether it had all been a dream, but the medal and the excruciating pain when I tried to move my knees reminded me that it had really happened, and that smile was straight back on my face!
Pain lasted two days, but by Wednesday morning I was more or less normal in terms of walking. My knees are still hurting me, and I will get them checked out, but I thought it best to give it a couple of weeks in case it is something that has flared up because of the Marathon.
Here is a link to my tracked split times, and within that page is a link to the Marathonfoto website. I am smiling in each and every one (aside from the one where Louise mentioned putting make up on, haha! Rather than putting my face on, I could have done with new knees at that stage!) :P She is right though, make up would have helped, as you can see in the photos, but it is impossible to be grumpy when wearing a tiara (which stayed put long after all my joints decided to fall out of place!). I know I took forever. Numerous people have said to me, ‘Seven hours?! You could run three in that time!’ The truth is that I couldn’t. I couldn’t even run one in that time, so I walked nine miles of it. I never claimed to be the world’s best athlete. I know I never will be. I had a go though, and I have always been clear that it will be a ‘run’ and not a RUN. And anyway, if you can run three in that time, I’ll sponsor you three times over :)
To date, I have raised £1,378.10 for the BHF, which is £1,695.13 with Gift Aid. I say I have raised, but it is all of you lovely, generous lot that have raised that money for the British Heart Foundation. As I got a ballot place, every penny of that will go straight to them. So thank you. Each and every one of you that has played a part in my adventure. I couldn't have done it without you, and I am honoured to count you all as friends. Thank you to Jo Mallaber, superwoman that finished in under five hours, who gave me loads of tops, advice and encouragement leading up to the race. You are my running hero! x Thanks also to the British Heart Foundation for their support, and to Full Potential for the training plans and advice (and last minute counselling, thanks Keith! x). Thanks to St. John's Ambulance too, for helping me and others get around that course and raise money for our charities. Marathons make people really emotional…
If you would like to sponsor me, you can do so here.
I hope that some of you are reading this and thinking 'I could do that!' That was the aim of this blog, to go from complete high-heeled non-runner to completing the Marathon, and that is what I did. If you fancy it, give it a go! You can do anything if you put your mind to it and train well. And if you're not a runner, I would urge you next April and each one following to please go out and support those runners doing the Marathon. Spectators work just as hard, and their job is more important than anything any runner can do. The runners can keep running because you are all there cheering them on. I have never been to watch a Marathon, but I hope to make it to as many as possible now I understand the impact they have on those running the race. Even the stragglers like me, seven hours into their race!
All that remains is for me to say thank you, once again, and as Journey say, Don't Stop Believing :)
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