So here it is. Proof that somehow, I got around the 26.2 miles of the London Marathon, without passing out, vomiting or just giving up and sitting down in the street – all of which I felt like doing several times.
It was so hard. I really, really underestimated how hard. Having run 18.9 miles in four hours, I reckoned I might be able to manage 26 in five. But I reckoned entirely without the extraordinarily cumulative effect of tiredness upon tiredness; ache upon ache.
Until now, the most gruelling time of my life was trying to stay awake through Wendy’s 72-hour labour with Tom, our first boy. But let’s face it, the gruel level was stratospherically higher for Wendy herself. All I had to do was keep my eyes open. This was so much tougher. Not as emotionally draining, but physically unbelievable.
The atmosphere at the start was pretty amazing. We were herded into our zones (I was in Zone 8, Marathon completists), and stood about for what felt quite a long time, but without any whinging or grumpiness. It didn’t hurt that the sun was out properly for perhaps the first time this year, which boosted spirits enormously.
Up ahead I could see the huge BBC camera crane, with the Red Start blimp floating to its right, and a helicopter hovering to its left. (See above.) It all felt completely unreal, so it was reassuring to hear someone say exactly that nearby:
‘This doesn’t feel real at all, does it?’ he said to his running mate. ‘It’s like we were doing our training and suddenly someone pressed fast-forward and here we are in London.’
That was exactly it. Running the frost-hardened fields of Surrey, the viciously cold Manhattan streets, or the balmy stretches of the Golden Gate Bridge, the idea that at some point in the future I’d actually be starting the real, live London Marathon felt like a fantasy.
Then they announced the 30-second silence for Boston. I half-heard the guy on the PA telling people it was coming, but it seemed to be lost among the excited chatter of 35,000-odd people.
Then the whistle blew, and silence fell like a window slammed against a storm. Standing among those thousands of people, in the capital city, with not a word spoken – not even a stifled cough or sneeze – was extraordinary.
One moment there was the low-level clamour of thousands of excited voices. Next, there was only the breeze, and birdsong, and your own thoughts of that appalling moment across the Atlantic. The applause at the end felt like an affirmation of human resolve and fellow-feeling. It was worth running 26 miles just to be part of it. (Video here.)
Then we were shuffling forward, bit by bit, and the reality began to dawn that I was actually here, and would actually have to run those 26 miles or look very silly indeed.
The first half was pretty good, actually. I kept a decent pace, and although the soles of my feet were hurting quite a lot by about the third mile, they calmed down again and left me alone after a while. (Probably because they were drowned out by the increasingly shrill cries of my hips and buttocks.)
At mile 13, I found the Children’s Trust cheering station. Three friends of ours were running for that charity, so they’d let my family in too: my wife Wendy was waiting with the aforementioned Tom (now 8) and my mother-in-law, Jean. They snapped me as I arrived, looking distinctly warm but still fairly happy:
From there, things got progressively harder. I’d run this far before, but only a couple of times. And it was showing. (Of course, if I’d done any more long-distance training, I might not have been able to run the marathon at all, thanks to my various injuries.)
By 18 miles I knew I was in for an incredibly tough final stage. My hip-flexes (as I’ve learned to call them) were really complaining, and it felt like I was being kicked quite hard in the arse every few steps. I’d started to allow myself short walk rests, but it was increasingly hard to get started again.
All the way round, though, the crowds were incredible. I was glad that I’d been advised to write my name on my vest – you can’t deny the psychological force of people shouting , ‘Come on Mike, you can do it, Mike!’ all the way round.
There was a point, at something like 22 miles, when I felt totally beaten. I’d slowed to a dejected walk, and was allowing myself to think that I might just have to walk the rest. (Although the thought of how long that would take was almost unbearable.) Then a little knot of people at the roadside yelled, ‘Come on, Mike! Don‘t give up mate, you can do it. Come on Mike!’
I mugged at them and forced myself back into a run, earning their cheers. I was off again. I’m really not sure I’d have managed that without them. (Or without the many people who handed out sweets and slices of orange – I got around thanks mainly to jelly babies.)
There was also a fire station at, I think, about 8 miles, where one of the guys had the fire hose spraying into the road – I ran over to it and straight through the water, which was blissful in the unexpected heat.
But even with all the incredible support, I found myself heading towards Victoria Embankment and the final stretch feeling sure I’d have to walk the final couple of miles.
Indeed, I was walking as I went into what had been temporarily branded ‘the Lucozade Tunnel of Yes’, which had been decked out in lights beaming encouraging slogans. But I decided I really wanted to be running when I saw the family again – they were at the ICAN station on the 25-mile mark. I’d run to there if I could, I decided, and then see how much more I could do.
I managed it, although my running was, by then, little more than a trot. I said hello to the family, and it was lovely to see them. Then I set off again, and told myself: less than a mile, less than a mile.
The crowd was really critical now, and they rose to the occasion wonderfully, cheering all of us slower runners on to the end. It was absolutely a matter of just one more step, but somehow I kept running around past Big Ben, up to St James’s Park, and down to the 800 METRES TO GO! sign.
After that there are signs every 200 metres. I remembered, right at the beginning, there’d been a sign saying TOILETS 200 METRES, and the toilets seemed to appear almost instantly. So 200 metres really couldn’t be that far, right? I tell you: the intervening 26 miles make each of those final 200-metre stretches feel like a marathon in itself.
But I found that I was still just about meeting the technical description of running as I stepped onto the pink surface of the Mall. By this point you’re hearing your name as a near-constant throb in your ears, which is a pretty incredible feeling.
If I could run this far, I decided, I could bloody well run across the line. And I even picked up speed – probably by about 0.25% – as I hit that final short straight of the Mall to the big clock at the end.
Crossing the line felt, at that moment, far more like relief than triumph. I was well and truly done in, with a constant piano-wire of pain on the inside of both hips and a very sore bum indeed.
Even mounting the little raised platform you have to go onto to let them take the timing tag of your shoes felt like a challenge. And the walk to collect my bag, and then find the family in Horse Guard’s Road, seemed to take forever.
But I found them, and they gave me a Penguin and let me lie down. Which was heaven.
Somehow, I followed them to the Tube and we got ourselves home. (Meeting a couple of fellow runners on the way: the sudden camaraderie with perfect strangers is a lovely by-product of the Marathon.)
At home, my lovely sister-in-law Kay had laid on dinner, and it was fantastic to eat proper food again. (I’d eaten porridge and banana at about 6am, and had nothing but water, Lucozade, gels and jelly babies for the subsequent 13 hours.)
Then I had a blissful hot bath, fell asleep in it, tried to sit up on the sofa with Wendy, fell asleep again, and took myself to bed. I slept like a log for nine hours.
It was quite a day. But looking back, the exhaustion and pain fade very quickly in comparison to the overriding delight in people sharing something very special. The connection with the crowds really is quite overwhelming, especially when they know your name. And the sense of people getting together ultimately to help others – charitable giving is definitely the dominant theme of the day – is fantastic.
Especially after the horrors of Boston, it was impossible not to feel one’s faith in humanity re-ignited. In the end, there were two bombers in Boston, against tens of thousands of runners, and millions of supporters – at the events and watching on screens. As the news continues to feed us stories – important stories – of the evils of the world, it’s worth being reminded that the odds are still stacked in favour of the good.
I even think I might have another go next year. And that really is saying something.
Last of all, thank you again to everyone who’s sponsored me. It’s been phenomenal. I hoped to raise £2,000 for ICAN, and the total as I write is £2,415! With Gift Aid on top, that’s very nearly £3,000 for this superb charity. THANK YOU. You’re amazing.