..here I am, wearing an oversized t-shirt which proclaims to the world that I am a 2012 Virgin London Marathon finisher. Yes, I did it! Yesterday I completed the London Marathon (note that I do not say that I ran it, because there wasn't a huge amount of running involved!). Given that only a few months ago, even getting to the end of my road (and that's in a downhill direction) was a struggle, this is an incredible demonstration of the amazing recuperative powers of the human body. And, perhaps, it is a demonstration of how I can be a determined little bugger when I need to be :-)
How can I describe the day? I am not sure I can find the words to describe the days leading up to Marathon day and the day itself, but here goes!
First of all, I was apprehensive - was I going to be able to get around the distance? I know I did 18 miles walking on the Downs a couple of weeks ago, but this was almost half the distance again. I didn't want to start the day thinking I wouldn't get round, or would struggle, but part of me kept thinking that it wasn't that long since I had started having enough energy and stamina to return to exercise. Had I taken on too much? This is where it really helped to know that I would be going round the course with two friends. We could all help each other when it got tough.
As the day got nearer, I became more and more excited. I went to the Expo on Friday afternoon and met up with some running friends; some of them were running but some were going to be carrying out the very valuable role of Mile 17 supporter, making sure there would be some champagne left for me when I finally got there. Expo always makes the marathon seem so much more real, somehow - the atmosphere is buzzing, there are runners who look confident, apprehensive and some plain scared! It does bring it home to everyone just what lies ahead, I think.
On Saturday evening, I set out everything I needed, replacing the white laces in my trainers with the red ones all the marathon runners are given, lacing the timing chip onto those cheerful red laces, setting out my Alice in Wonderland costume (including rather cute little blue hairband), packing my kit bag to leave on the baggage lorry, preparing my nutrition for the day...this was nothing sophisticated, believe me! Some fruit jellies decanted into a sandwich bag and a Jordan's trail bar were the sum total of it. I also packed some co-codamol in case any bits of me started to hurt, some aspirin (still the best thing to give anyone if they collapse with a heart attack), some pain relief gel and some blister plasters. I had more medical supplies than I had food!
I set the alarm for 6.45 on Sunday morning. My lovely husband had offered to drive me up to Blackheath, since our trains don't start running early enough on a Sunday morning for me to get up to Croydon to catch a train up towards London, which is how I normally travel to Greenwich/Blackheath. It was a great relief to know I could just sit in the car and be taken all the way there, rather than having to struggle to get a seat on a crowded train, along with several hundreds of runners and supporters! Up, porridge made and eaten, plenty pain relief applied in the necessary places as a precaution and then I donned my Alice costume, did a final check that I had my runner's number with me (plus the required number of safety pins) and that my timing chip really was securely tied on and then off we set.
At Blackheath, I met up with my running mates and Neil took some photos of the three of us. I look freezing in them and that would be because actually, I was! It was a chilly old morning. My friend Deb had created a magnificent Mad Hatter outfit (Johnny Depp incarnation) and looked absolutely brilliant, complete with white false eyelashes, bobbins strung across her body and a bright orange fright wig. Sublime. Neil left us to go home, leave the car and then come up on the train to support later in the day and the three of us went to our respective start points (Phil at the red start and Deb and me at the blue start) where I met up with another running friend, Derek, to say hello and wish him luck. Lots of people wanted to take photos of Alice and the Mad Hatter, including some runners from an Italian running club - of course, we were only too happy to pose!
We started near the back, with the other slow people. What can I say about the race? It was hot, it was unbelievably noisy because of the tremendous support all the way round, it was fun. We high-fived the children (and adults too!), danced about to the music when we passed live bands, waved, accepted jelly babies and other sweeties and generally smiled our way round. Neil and Amy, plus a few of Amy's friends, turned up at seven points along the route, including after the finish line, and seeing them gave me such a boost! I also saw another running friend, totally unexpectedly, just after the start - she was taking photos and we spotted each other at the same time and had a quick hug and chat. At Mile 17, I had my mandatory glass of champagne from the wonderful Runners World support crew - that was emotional! I don't think I was the only one in tears at that point - to get to Mile 17 was a milestone (pardon the pun!) for me; last time I was at Mile 17, I was on the other side of the barrier, supporting runners, little knowing the difficult time that lay ahead of me. Was that really only a year ago?
From Mile 13, I had been craving a cup of tea and at Mile 25, just after the heavens opened, there were Neil and Amy, with a cup of tea for me. It tasted sublime - stuff your energy drinks, it's tea that revives me every time!
I had wanted to keep something in reserve so that I could be confident I could cross the finish line running, rather than walking. I can't begin to do justice to a description of the range of emotions coursing through me as we trotted those last few hundred yards - utter elation at having done it, sadness at what my poor family have had to put up with over the past year and yes, a personal sadness, a feeling sorry for myself moment at all I have gone through. Most of all, though, I felt a sheer rush of pride at having done what I wanted to do - blow a big fat raspberry at the evil that is cancer. Crossing that finish line was the clearest way I could show that I wasn't going to let having been ill stop me doing the things I love. So what if my smile is wonky? I still smiled at all the supporters the whole way round. So what if I had to walk most of it? I did it. I got the same medal and oversized t-shirt as the much faster runners.
I couldn't hold the tears in at the end. It did get me some nice hugs from the marshalls, though! By this time, I was cold, wet and quite shaky - I had felt a bit dizzy when I stopped to drink my tea at Mile 25, so I had to get some sugar into me quickly. I think (can't quite remember!) I ate something from the goody bag we were all given. I know that one of the marshalls had to get my foil blanket out of my bag and wrap it round me, because I was just shaking with cold and emotion. Meeting up with Neil and Amy at the end just about finished me and I "proper cried", as the youngsters would say.
I know, looking back at the day, that I didn't take enough nutrition on board during the day, which is why I was seriously wobbly at the end. We found somewhere for me to change (I had packed trackie bottoms, a long-sleeved top and - most importantly - my Crocs, so that I could get out of my trainers). Amy had to help me by untying my laces (fingers too cold and shivery), removing my shoes and socks - which revealed the massive blister on the side of my heel! Why didn't I stop and put one of my plasters on it?? - and helping me get dressed again into my warm, dry clothes. Meanwhile, Neil got me some tea and a sandwich to accompany the chocolate he had brought for me and after about half an hour, I finally warmed up. Amy and her friend Jane went off to meet up with some friends and Neil and I popped into the Chandos pub, off Trafalgar Square, to say a quick hello to the Runners World people - it's where we go every year. I didn't want even to stay for one drink, as I felt seriously cold and tired by now.
Wearing my medal and foil blanket, Neil and I came home to Oxted and I hobbled up the road to our house. Collapsed on the sofa, ate some food (no pasta!!) and drank lots of tea. Today has, strangely, been a lot more emotional than yesterday and I have found myself a bit tearful at times. Maybe it's because the Marathon was such an important milestone for me and now I have crossed it off my list.
I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped me get to the start line. The support yesterday was immensely important, so thank you to all the dedicated people who spend all day lining the route to cheer and encourage us - especially to the Macmillan support teams, the Mile 17 crew and, of course, my lovely husband and daughter for turning up so often - I heard them before I saw them, largely due to Amy doing her foghorn impression and yelling my name, which of course made other people start shouting my name.I felt like a celebrity at times! I'd also like to thank Neil, Amy and Adam for their staunch belief in me, that I could do this marathon. They knew (especially Neil) how very important it was for me to do it, as a mark of my recovery and to prove the benefits of exercise when you've been seriously ill. They have had to listen to my doubts and worries and excitement about it all for months now! I'd also like to thank Natalie for her part in this - she knows what I mean! Finally, thank you for all the generous donations to my chosen charity, Macmillan Cancer Support - I have exceeded my target amount by over 100%. Superb!
I am a 2012 Virgin London Marathon finisher!!