Tag Archives: Marathon

All done. (And all done in.)

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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.

Marathon gathering

The crowds gathering in Greenwich

Marathon Red Start

At the Red Start, feeling a bit funny.

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Waiting for the off.

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:

At the half-way point

At the half-way point

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.

Marathon 20 miles

The 20-mile mark

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.

Marathon 25 miles

At 25 miles

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.

Marathon finish

Done.

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.

It’s tomorrow!

Registration at ExCel yesterday

Registration at ExCel yesterday

It all, as they say, comes down to this. Which gives me a distinctly floaty, fluttery feeling in the tum, I have to say.

That feeling got fairly intense when I joined the streaming crowd draining off the DLR into the ExCel centre in London for Marathon registration yesterday.

When you consider this was just a random hour (about 11.30am) during one of the four or five days that registration is open, the number of people was astonishing – and some hint at what tomorrow (TOMORROW!) is going to feel like.

Anyway, little to report on the training front. As instructed, I’ve been resting and stretching, and therefore hopefully avoiding any horrors tomorrow. I went for a very short little run on Thursday morning – only 20 minutes, just to make sure the legs were still working really. I was in the Cotswolds at the time, with no signal on my phone at all, so you’ll have to trust me, not Nike+, on that one.

Most importantly, a very large number of stupendously lovely people have made sure that I not only reached my fundraising target of £2,000, but overshot it by quite some way. In fact, the donations are still coming in – I had two today!

With Gift Aid, the grand total is now £2,650, which is just fantastic. Thank you very much indeed to everyone who’s sponsored me. It’s very greatly appreciated.

Can I also give a shout-out to the other runners I know:

Jan Maybury, who’s running for the Children’s Trust, who cared for her late son, Mark.

Debbie Bishop, who’s running with Jan for the same charity. Oddly, I can’t find her page, but if you’d like to support her you can sponsor her and Jan together on Jan’s page!

Julie Willard, who’s also supporting the Children’s Trust.

Steve Kirkendall, who’s running for not one but two charities close to his heart.

Gemma Rowland, who had to pull out of last year’s race, but is back in this year for the charities who helped her little girl, Tess.

Good luck to everyone!

So. The plan now is rest, pasta and sleep. Then … Well, let’s cross that bridge (run that road/circle that park/crawl that Mall) when we come to it.

Deep breath…

More about knees, and some more running

So, after my visit to the physio (Helen Esplen, who it turns out is also physio to the GB Rowing team), I went out for a long run last Wednesday to test the knee – just over nine miles around Leith Hill.

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Starting out on the remains of the snow

Thanks to poor planning (okay, no planning), I found myself running downhill for most of the first half. And when your car is parked at the top of the hill, that can only mean one thing.

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So the second half, and especially about the final third, was hard going, as I climbed steadily (sort of) towards Leith Hill Tower – only the highest point in the county, people.

The scramble up to the tower is short, but fairly merciless: a steep ‘path’ that’s in fact just a deep and thoroughly uneven rut carved by rainwater and snowmelt, tangled with roots and strewn with rocks.

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By the time I got to the tower I felt ready to drop, but remembered my personal trainer, Karen, telling me how much better it is to keep going than to stop. And with the tower being the highest point around, at least it would now be all downhill to the car.

I recovered quickly, which I seem (thankfully) to be able to do, and made reasonably quick time heading back to the car park. But the most important thing was that, by the time I got there, my hitherto dodgy knee felt pretty good. Tired, as you’d expect, but not horribly stiff and sore like before.

A couple of days later, I went back to the physio for our next planned appointment, and she seemed pleasantly surprised by the improvement. I’d been diligently doing the stretches she recommended, so they’re obviously playing off.

Bouyed by this, I decided on another run at the weekend. I thought I’d try to build it up a bit: 10 miles. But then, as it does, family life got in the way and by the time I got my trainers on it was almost 5pm on Sunday evening.

As it turned out, though, I felt seriously tired. The measly 6km (3.7 miles) I did around Norbury Park felt sluggish and rotten.

Not sure what’s wrong with me at the moment, I feel like going to sleep pretty much all the time. May just be recovering from the bug that put me in bed for two days about a week ago. As it was, I was in bed before 9.30pm on Sunday night, feeling utterly shattered, so I was clearly under par.

I didn’t get any photos from this run, by the way, but I did record the fact that by the end, I was billowing steam like a racehorse:

Physio Helen reckons I need to complete a 15-18 mile run by (or at) Easter weekend, and I’m sure she’s right. So that’s the plan. I feel confident that with the knee improving, I just need to get my energy levels back up (more careful diet and maybe energy gels should help) and I can manage that distance. Not that it’ll be easy. But it’s essential if I’m going to be prepared for April 21…

I’ve left this very late

So, the Marathon is two months away, almost to the day, and I’m just starting my blogging and fundraising. Not ideal.

Still, it adds to the excitement. Hopefully the pressure of that deadline will squeeze huge amounts of money out of everyone I know.

I hope so, because ICAN is an amazing charity. I did some copywriting work for them a few years back, and have never forgotten visiting their Meath School in Surrey. It’s a cliché to describe an experience as ‘humbling’, but this one certainly was.

It felt like a privilege to be able to speak to the Head, Janet Dunn, a fearsomely brilliant (but entirely unfearsome) woman who spoke with the sort of passionate intelligence about her work that makes you feel that you should drop everything and start working for her. A born leader, clearly, and utterly dedicated.

Going around the school was an eye-opener, too. I didn’t understand ‘communication disability’, and one of the problems is that it’s a very wide-ranging spectrum. (Here’s ICAN’s introduction to it.) The bottom line, though, is that these are children who, in various ways, struggle to communicate.

Without specialist understanding, a lot of these disabilities go undiagnosed for a long time. Children learn strategies to get around them – private strategies that are often completely missed by the rest of us. The problems only emerge as children grow older.

Maybe their test scores drop away as schoolwork becomes increasingly difficult to do without strong communication. Or the frustrations of not being able to make themselves understood come out as ‘bad behaviour’, and they end up excluded and marginalised. The implications of both can be lifelong, and devastating.

And while they’re still at school, life can be unbearable for children who can’t communicate properly. As well know, the playground can be a brutal place for anyone marked out as ‘different’, and these children can end up isolated and bullied. It’s heart-breaking.

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ICAN’s Meath School in Surrey

At ICAN’s two schools (one primary, one secondary), it’s a very different story. The children’s needs are understood and addressed by dedicated specialists. (Very dedicated.) When I visited, I saw a school that, at first glance, looks like any other: the children are happy and lively, dashing about in the playground or sitting attentively in lessons. And that’s what’s so remarkable, because many of the children have quite severe problems with language.

The story that stays with me the most from that day was of a little boy with a rare form of epilepsy (I believe it was). This condition is almost unbelievably cruel: it means that at any moment, he may have a seizure and lose all the language he’s learnt to that point. Like wiping a hard drive: gone. Start again.

When I visited, they told me that this little boy was now almost six, and so could understand his condition to some degree. And that almost made it harder. Because even as he was learning his language, he knew that at any moment it could all be snatched from him, and he’d have to start again. It’s hard to imagine how you carry on.

Thankfully, he was with a group of people, and part of a school, that understands his condition and its impact on him and his family. And they were finding ways to get around the disability. Often, sign language is invaluable, because it uses different parts of the brain to speech.

But there’s only so much ICAN can do with two schools. They do a huge amount of work, too, in researching and promoting understanding of ‘SLCN’ – Speech, Language and Communication Needs. But they‘re still a little-known charity, working incredibly hard without enough recognition or support.

That’s why I’m running for them. And why you should empty every purse, wallet and piggy bank in the house into my fundraising page. There are many, many more children out there with these disabilities, many of them undiagnosed and struggling in silence – sometimes literally. Let’s help ICAN reach them too.