The Valencia Marathon 2015 (AKA El Maratón Valencia Trinidad Alfonso)!
The Magical Mystery Tour
Little did I know quite where it would lead me when I started to run back in 2013. To start with the path rapidly split into three, broadly parallel roads, for the running me ... the charity fund-raising me ... and the blogging me, and each led me to some wonderful and unexpected places. And now along comes another. A month or so back I happened to note that the Valencia Marathon was looking for official bloggers, so I emailed a proposal. I assumed nothing had come of it then, yesterday, the news that I am "on the team" :-) Another marathon to run (and blog).
So, by way of a little introduction and, as we (occasional) watchers of reality TV refer to it, "back story", there follows the (full and unexpurgated – afraid it was much too long for them to publish verbatim) text of an article recently written for @heart. Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour! Step right this way!
April 13th 2014 and nearing the (possible) culmination of what I like to refer to as my "weight loss project that got seriously out of control". Greenwich Park. A long journey home and a long journey ahead. The start of the Virgin Money London Marathon 2014.
Now exiled on the South coast, I was born and raised in South-East London and went to school just a stone's throw fom the marathon start. As an unashamed "sports nut" I loved watching this event on television.The music (which I now know to be "theme from The Trap"). Da-da ... da-da ... da da-da-da daaaaa. Every year I'd look slightly enviously at those ordinary folks in obvious pain crossing the finish line. "I'd love to have done that" (I thought) whilst also thinking "but I never will". Then my Damascene moment arrived on my first ski trip for far too many years. They weighed me! "You've seriously got to do something about that" I told myself. So, aged 55, I became a runner. And I ventured to dream that maybe I just could run the London Marathon.
It would be wrong to describe myself as a couch potato. I would be happy to walk up and down on the coast path for twenty miles. I took advice from colleagues who ran. And I went to see my doctor to be given the once over. My doctor (a more than decent marathon runner himself) promptly declared me fit and suggested I "come on down to the running club". And so a plan started to hatch. I drew heavily on the NHS "Couch to 5k" programme (http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/c25k/pages/couch-to-5k.aspx) and at the point that I could manage 5k without stopping I did indeed join the Egdon Heath Harriers and entered a little group of other (mostly) newbies running around town on a Tuesday. And I also entered the ballot for the 2014 London Marathon.
Now when you enter the ballot you are invited to tick the boxes of a number of charities you might like to support, which I duly did. One of these was children's cancer support charity CLIC Sargent (www.clicsargent.org.uk). My (soon to be ex) wife and daughter had volunteered in their local shop and we did a "pyjama run" for them quite a few years ago. But as far as the ballot is concerned the odds are not great (about one in eight I think). In early June I called up CLIC Sargent, who have a dedicated (in more than one sense of the word) team supporting their runners. They advised that if I wanted to opt for a charity place it would be best to secure it early, rather than wait for the scrum of fallen ballotees come October time. They asked for a minimum pledge to raise £1800, plus a written proposal as to how you would do it! (dare I say "once bitten ... "). I did some maths, waxed lyrically, and before I knew it I was part of the 2014 team with a pledge to raise £2000, and I had paid my £100 registration fee.
And so began the most intense 10 months of my life. With a combination of donations and events I thought I could raise the £2000. After all I had done nothing like this before. But it still felt like a huge millstone around my neck. And I had to somehow get fit to run twenty-six and a bit miles (the sports nut in me had formed the view that a good marathon had to be one run in under four hours). And furthermore, in one eureka moment I decided a blog and web-site would be a good idea (and so was born www.keithsmarathondream.co.uk). I also became part of the www.realbuzz.com community, a source of endless support and invaluable advice. I upped the running effort, aiming towards a half marathon, Bournemouth, in October, started advertising desperately Just Giving and Virgin Money Giving pages, and had nightmares trying to get the web-site up and running.
I have to say the running came together really well and in October I completed the Bournemouth Half in considerable distress at the end (went off much too fast!) but in a very satisfying 1:55:44 (well on track for 4 hours). Eventually I got my head around wordpress for the web-site. And the fund-raising was really freaking me out. But as time passed, the total started to mount as I found ever more devious means to persuade people to part with their hard earned cash, including real, hard-core busking in the town centre. And then I went on holiday and met someone who had raised £5k the previous year. And (geed up by my employer agreeing to match the first £1000 raised) super-competitive me thought wouldn't it be a good idea to raise the bar to £5k? Yeah – great idea!
Come January and really awful weather. It was getting to be really hard to drag myself out. And I was starting to find the running club winter runs, when us newbies were joined by all the old-bees, rather overwhelming and started to look for excuses not to go (hmmmm – working late again – much too tired). The running prong of the three pronged project was starting to lag seriously behind the other two prongs. But then the chance to attend CLIC Sargent's training day in London with Nick, Phoebe and Tom from www.runningwithus.com, and (the lovely) @RuBo and team from CLIC Sargent, a day jam packed full of good practical advice. I returned a new man, gave myself a firm talking too, found myself a training plan, and stuck with it!
I would recommend the Bath Half to anyone (not just for the many puns it inspires). I absolutely flew (by my standards) around there at the start of March in 1:53:14 with loads left in the tank. And it was great experience to do a mass participation run. This was the first time I'd run with "Keith" emblazened on my vest, and the support was absolutely awesome. I had become one very focussed individual. Outside of the day job, every waking moment (and probably quite a few sleeping moments) was dedicated to "the wonderful project". I'm starting to well up now thinking about it. And well up was something I did often during that period. And as for "the Trap" it was almost Pavlovian. Just play that music and I'd be in floods of tears. And strangely I was overcome with a huge bout of realism regarding the run. Why fret about 4 hours? Getting round will be a massive achievement. And from the sort of times I'm running 4:15 might just be more realistic.
Preparation for the day is of course vital. I worked out the logistics. I did long runs at the exact right time of day. I practiced with race day breakfast. I practiced with gels and jelly babies. And went up to expo on Thursday to register, met @RuBo and the other lovely ladies from CLIC Sargent, Nick from RunningWithUs and some chap called Stephen Kiprotich insisted on having his photo taken with me (claimed to be world and olympic champion ;-) ). Back to London on the Saturday, and met up with the realbuzzers again in Hyde Park, before heading up to London for pasta with friends and then back to the Stratford Travelodge. And a surprisingly good night's sleep.
And so to race day. Up early, porridge (as practiced) in my room, out on the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich, nice gentle walk to my start point in the park, several comfort stops, and lucky enough to bump into some of the realbuzzers again. Off to my pen, and now we're off and running. I very early on joined other "gentlemen" for yet another (unofficial) comfort stop on Blackheath. The early part of the run was a delight, passing through the streets were I grew up. Past the road where my grandparents lived for 60 years. Past my spiritual home, Charlton Athletic Football Club. Just before Greenwich first massive cheer of the day from family and friends. The Cutty Sark, Deptford and now heading off towards Tower Bridge and the half way point reached in dead on 2 hours.
But after half way the heat is taking its toll. Concious decision – slow down. A nice moment for me when I see a young lady who I had (anonymously) sponsored. I recognised her because she was wearing a giant boob. I sponsored her because she was representing www.coppafeel.org, the charity set up by the wonderful Kris Hallenga (welling up again). Canary Wharf – massive shouts of GO DAD – GO DAD from my two favourite ladies in all the world, in strict birth order Madeleine and Anneliese (here I go again – tears on my keyboard).. It's getting really tough – walk – walk – I tell myself but I refused to listen. Out of docklands and off towards the city. Hit the embankment and the loudest GOOOOO DAAAAAAD of the day :-) I can see Big Ben – it's getting closer – Birdcage Walk – it's never ending – suddenly swing around and there is the finish – faster faster – remember Phoebe's advice – forget about Garmin – milk this moment for all it's worth – arms in the air – you've done it – you've done it – YOU'VE DONE IT.
So (classic commentator moment) – "how do you feel Keith?" - strangely flat! - but you've got the medal – reclaim baggage, change shoes (my feet are killing me!), and head off to the meeting point in St James' Park. As I turned the corner I glanced down at that medal and started to sob uncontrollably. And then back to CLIC Sargent reception for hero treatment and massage, then enjoy the afternoon sun in the gardens by Embankment tube and consume first alcohol for two months! And eventually, weary, the train back home. Keith's Marathon Dream is (sort of) complete. A perfect end to a wonderful project?
Some hard facts. I was delighted to complete the London Marathon in 4 hrs 17 mins exactly. It cost me £100 to register with CLIC Sargent, but that guaranteed me a place without having to ballot. That sounds like a lot, but it was something I really wanted to do. And putting on a big city marathon is an expensive business, and as far as I was concerned, it ran like clockwork. All-in-all money well spent. Charity fundraising is not easy, but I loved working with CLIC Sargent, and they were there to support me when I needed them. "Supporting children and young people with cancer and leukaemia". That is some compelling message to take out with you, and I got so much positive feedback from people with first hand experience of the great work this charity does. I was so pleased to help raise over £6000 to assist with their continuing good work.
On this project I was overwhelmed with great and generous suport from so many people. Running a marathon is no walk in the park – the marathon demands total respect, and if you're going to do it, pay your dues and do it properly. But it's amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it and if running a marathon is what you want to do then absolutely go for it. And if you are going to do it on a charity golden ticket again you can do it but start early (and don't do it every year – it's really not fair on your friends and family).
And as for Keith's Marathon Dream? Well as I write this I''m sitting on Eurostar heading for Paris in the spring. Romance in the air? Not for me! No I'm off to try and nail that sub four hour finish (for the record made it – 3:56:14). Thanks for reading. I can put the tissues away now :-)
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