Back in 2013 I tracked a twitter friend running in the London Marathon. Therein a dream was formed: I wanted to run the London Marathon too!
Full of nervous excitement I put my name down in the following years ballot and tentatively started running around the local park. Then the ‘Sorry’ magazine arrived and I had mixed feelings, I wasn’t anywhere near ready to run a marathon (I was over 14 stone for a start) but also felt a failure for not getting through.
Luckily in the meantime I had joined the RealBuzz web site and I just kept getting, not just excellent advice, but loads of encouragement too!
Fast forward to the 2019 VLM and I finally got a ‘You’re In’ magazine!
By this time I had completed (can’t say run) 2 marathons (Brighton 06:49:19 and Lisbon 06:59:00) and I was two stone lighter.
My aspirations had been to run as much as possible of the VLM and hopefully complete it before 7hrs. Training had been okay but due to a lazy holiday I missed 2 weeks of training (including the longest long run scheduled) and I’d had some issues with a dodgy ankle, knee and hip (which resulted in a new pair of trainers). But I’d managed to complete most of the sessions recommended (3 runs a week). Longest run to date was just over 8 miles (sad face) so not the best preparation.
Anyway, come that Marathon Sunday morning I awoke at 4:20 and although I snoozed didn’t manage to get back to sleep so eventually got up about 7am. I’d had a small bowl of ready brek and a boiled egg with a slice of toast for breakfast.
Our cab was booked for 9am and we arrived at Blackheath by 9:20 and headed up the hill to the Blue Start Alan deposited me by the entrance of Blue start and he headed off to the station to start making use of his over 60 oyster card (free travel! A perk of living in London). He told me afterwards that he’d made the mistake of walking past the chain link fence where plenty of ‘gentlemen’ were relieving themselves through the fence!! He said he had to dodge the steams coming through!! Gross!
I had given my coat to Alan and so I was beginning to feel the cold but huddled in Zone 8 with hundreds of others meant the cold wasn’t as bad as it could have been (bit like penguins). I had been honoured with the Realbuzz Baton and had it ‘holstered’ in my phone holder on my arm and found myself constantly touching it.
We shuffled forward gradually until eventually crossing the line at: 11:02:42. Did my best not to set off too fast but went with the flow on the downward bit. Heading into Woolwich was weird (my old stamping ground) although much of it looked different to how it was when I was a kid. (A very long time ago!)
Round the roundabout by the old cinema (used to be an Odeon). Then onwards to Charlton. I spotted Alan on a terrace there and caught his attention.
I had definitely got into a shuffle group as those around me were all of a similar speed. Walked when I needed to, shuffled when able. Sometimes the music was just too good and I had to go with the flow (aka dancing) until the music intermingled gradually with the cheers and whoops of the crowd. Two tunes spring to mind: It’s a long way to Tipperary aka tickle Mary) at one point and Mustang Sally at another. Both had me stepping to the beat! I remember passing a preacher surrounded by orange peel, holding his bible full of post-it notes. I have no idea what he was saying but he looked very earnest! A gentleman runner ahead of me had painted a big yellow smiley face on the back of his bald head which really cheered me up!
Some of the scenery seemed vaguely familiar (used to catch the bus to Greenwich for special treats as a kid) although it all looked a little run down now (to be expected I guess). Always remember that thrill of excitement as the topmost mast of the Cutty Sark popped up above the shops and houses. Today was different though, I wasn’t on a bus I was at a lower level and could not see that familiar reference point. But as I rounded the corner – there she was! I did gasp, seeing her standing there so majestic, never gets old.
Managed a good shuffle all the way around her and was quite encouraged by the crowd, then realised ‘Big Bird’ was just behind me. He did appear to be losing a lot a feathers and I hoped he’d make it intact!
Next landmark would be Tower Bridge. I did stop to take a photo or two on the way there (I quite enjoy seeing buildings under construction but promptly got photobombed when I stopped to photograph one of them!
(It’s become one of my favourites – have no idea who he was though). Around the 12 mile mark I was looking out for Hollywood as I’d been promised a hug, but it wasn’t to be today. Either he had already left or I just didn’t spot him (sad face).
Another corner and another ‘Wow!’ moment. No iconic photo going over the tower bridge for me but I did enjoy the freedom of ‘running’ over it, passing all the charity cheering squads enroute. Felt good and the smile was still plastered to my face sometime afterwards.
When the RealBuzz cheering squad hove into a blurry view it was a really special moment for me. I have no idea who was there (didn’t have my glasses on) but I’m sure I heard my name shouted and saw lots of waving (I could see the smiles in my head).
Not far from there I was shouted at again but this time it was my old running buddy Linda (she has recently joined a running club so she was on a water station and had been keeping an eye out for me). She had even saved me a banana! One hug later and I was back on the trail.
By the 15th mile I was flagging fast but I knew I had to keep a fast a walking pace up as I could because I had to get to 22.5 to relieve those buzzers who had been able to stay. (My mantra was simply: I can slow down after that). I was very aware that I had developed a big blister on the pad of my foot and I knew I’d starting limping because of it, but I just gritted my teeth and headed for ‘home’.
Somewhere around Canary Wharf I heard another shout and this time it was Alan and Les. I got a rejuvenating peck from the old man and continued on.
Mile marker 18 was nowhere to be seen but one enterprising marshall was shouting that we had passed it. There after it was hit and miss as to whether I made it to the next one before it vanished.
The way forward was marred by lorrys, coaches, small cleaning trucks, mile marker dismantlers and the sweeper car with it’s annoying neon sign: “Please move onto the pavement”. These were generally ignored. A couple of times the on-lookers shouted abuse at the trucks especially when they noticed some of us getting squirted with (I must say) a pleasant smelling liquid! (They got me about three times on my right side). A couple of times the blue line remover passed me by but somehow I always managed to get back in front of him.
Because of the mile marker situation I was a little confused as to how many were left, so it was with a huge relief when I spotted the Buzzers! Kathy, Max and Emelie (apologies if I missed anyone, I was totally out of it!). I got a ginger biscuit and a couple of crisps. I’m sure I got a hug too! I am so sorry to have kept you all waiting such a long time. I really was trying to be as quick as I could!
After that wonderful sojourn I was back on the road/pavement. I was passed by a couple carrying a stretcher and one of those CPR manikin torso’s, they sounded a bit miffed at having to move onto the pavement.
Alan told me afterwards that the coaches had been following me very closely but I had been totally unaware of them (thankfully). No one from them hassled or bothered me. Plus all the water stations I passed offered water, gels or jelly beans. I even got to try one of the ‘bubbles’! Took ages to chew the ‘skin’ though and there was so much liquid in it I nearly choked but all the same it was nice!
Around mile 23 I encountered Alan & Les again this time with Marie-Louise and Andy! I got a hug and a kiss from my little girl and a ‘thumbs up’ from Andy then headed off again (I’d been told, by this stage, by the sweeper car, to get onto the pavement). That didn’t last too long as it was almost impossible to get along the thoroughfare full of buggies, suitcases and general meandering on-lookers. The way forward appeared blocked so one enterprising runner simply lifted up the tape across the pavement and a crowd of us ducked under it and back onto the road and therefore continued following the ‘blue line’ (while it still lasted).
Continued being directed onto the pavements and continued making my way back onto the road (I was very naughty). It was just tricky negotiating on the pavement! Got fed up shouting “excuse me!” every 5 seconds.
I must add the Parkinson’s UK cheering squads had been brilliant. I think I got at least three big hugs the biggest from the last lady along the embankment. I believe I felt a tad emotional at that point.
Anyway, I know I was on a pavement stretch when Big Ben was getting closer and I spotted a timing mat in the road, so I doubled back and crossed it – didn’t have the foggiest if it was still working but gave it a go anyway. (spoiler alert: It was!)
Somehow I managed to get around the corner by Westminster Station (still on the road) and carried on down Birdcage. I really thought the finish was just around the corner but it seemed a hell of a long way up the road!
Huffed, Puffed and Hobbled over in 7:16:12. Pretty rubbish really but at least I’d finished.
I collected my goody bag (which included my XS tee shirt, all they had) and my medal. Got a professional photo of me with both medal and baton, then promptly sank onto a temporary bollard. A couple of marshals passed me by but not before checking I was okay.
Eventually hauled myself to my feet and staggered towards the archway (noting a finisher with her newly acquired bag, lighting up a cigarette!). Met Alan and Les and they helped me over to Drummonds (the bank) for a sit down and a glass of water (they’d just packed up the tea and coffee) – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know- Andy’s Dad worked there for 30+ years and managed to pull a string or two for us all to gather to recuperate before heading off to dinner.
I’ve had one run (parkrun) since as feel totally deflated and everything still aches. Been feeling that – achieved the objective of completing the VLM – what’s left?
Okay, so I’d told Alan (and anyone else who’d listen) that I’m never doing a marathon again, would consider 10k’s and possibly half’s in future. Then promptly booked up Brighton Half for end of Feb 2020 Doh!
Fast forward, VLM emailed me to say if I want it – I have a guaranteed place in next years’ VLM as an apology for the horrid way all the over 7 hour finishers were treated by the clean-up crews. So I’m likely to take them up on their offer – never say never.
Thank you all for your support and love over the last few years. It is always appreciated. Oh and I managed to raise £500 for Parkinsons UK
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