Monday, April 14, 2008

Auntie Em runs 26.2 - all the way.


I did it - neither rain, nor hail[1] could stay this messenger about her duty. I ran a steady pace the whole 26.2 miles[2]. No stopping, no walking, no sneaky trips to the loo.

The start was great, and running through Charlton in the sun was lovely. I made a conscious effort not to think of the miles ahead. Spent some time chatting to ClaireyS from the Realbuzz Marathon Forum, which was lovely and helped the minutes fly by.

My Mum's giant banner was a very welcome sight as I left Greenwich - next time[3] everyone is to have something to wave as spotting faces in the crowd is impossible!

Rotherhithe was miserable, despite the great crowd support, as I couldn't find David in the crowd through my rain soaked glasses. I had spotted that Rotherhithe tunnel was closed and so knew I wouldn't see him at mile 13 either.

Tower Bridge was great. I knew it from training and know exactly how long and how much of a slope it is, so I paced myself perfectly and it was the first place I really noticed myself pulling ahead of people.

Going out on the Highway was very intimidating. Seeing people coming back, looking exhausted, gives you a salutory preview of effect of the miles to come. The messages from my friends and family on my iPod were essential. I hadn't seen anyone since mile 7, and I didn't expect to see anyone again until at least mile 17. I felt very lonely. Suddenly hearing a friendly voice tempting me with visions of what to expect at the finish, singing, or, best of all, simply saying "you can do it", was the only thing keeping me going.

Mum's Giant Banner was a beacon in the darkness at mile 17 - I knew the freezing cold rain was sapping my energy levels, as was the pace. I managed to yell at my brother "Tell David - Jelly Beans" as I ran past. Knowing (hoping) I'd find David at mile 22.5 with some much needed sugar meant I could guzzle my Gels much sooner than I'd expected.

Coming back on the Highway it started raining again. I started to forget which mile marker I'd been through and my mind was really shutting down. I had no idea of anything except the need to keep going. Then the rain and hail started. As I passed the Shelter cheering point I searched like mad for David and my heart sank when I couldn't see him among the rain-ponchoed cheerers. They yelled "Emma, Emma, Go Emma", I cried back "David, where's David?" Thankfully he was a few yards downstream and I'd slowed enough to pick him out.

I remember my nieces looking very wet and bewildered, my friend Michael looking concerned, my sister in law tearing my jelly beans open with her teeth, and how badly David's coat squelched as I grabbed a very quick hug. I think my brother in law shouted something encouraging as I tore myself away to keep on for the last 4 miles.

A short time later, the lack of windscreen wipers on my glasses made itself felt. Unable to see clearly I plowed through a very deep puddle. I ran the rest of the race with about a quarter inch[4] of water in my trainers. Immediately my feet began to blister and I knew I'd be in trouble for the rest of the run.

By the time I reached London Bridge I'd resorted to counting backwards from 100, shouting at myself, chanting, anything just to keep going. I knew at this point that if I stopped I'd never get going again.

We came to the long underpass. Runners only in here, no crowds, the perfect place for an Epic Fail. I felt my bottom lip trembling. I was about to stop and have a good cry when I heard someone behind me yell "Oggie Oggie Oggie". With the steadiest, loudest voice I could muster, I joined the 100 or so runners in the tunnel with an "Oi Oi Oi".

"Oggie!"
"Oi!"
"Oggie!"
"Oi!"
"Oggie Oggie Oggie!"
"Oi Oi Oi".

I was alright again. I could see the rain sheeting down at the end of the tunnel, but I plowed on.

"Land of Hope and Glory" on the iPod, Waterloo Bridge in sight but so far ahead. How many bridges between there and Westminster? I honestly couldn't remember, despite all the training runs and the years of walking the South Bank.

Running up the Embankment I was searching for the final Shelter Cheering Point and, I hoped, my assorted family. Having my name on my vest for the crowd to see came into its own. "Come on Emma", "You're looking great Emma", "Nearly there Emma", "Keep going Emma". I wanted to thank each and every one of them: though each and every one of them brought me that little bit closer to tears I don't know how I would have gone on without them.

I passed the Shelter cheerers - couldn't spot my family. By this point my legs were weighed down by how far my heart had sunk. The climb to Westminster looked impossible. Suddenly I heard "Spatulaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!" My brother - running alongside me on the other side of the barriers. He stayed with me for what must have been a good 300 yards. The distraction was enough to get me up the slope. One more right turn and St James's Park would be in sight. I'd be nearly home free.

I saw someone with Pix on their vest, who I assumed was Pix from the forum. I ran over to say Hi and wish her luck. More distraction, a few more yards. Then one more push. At the edge of the park I thought of the Breakfast Jog the day before, and Col from the forum saying "you'll get to this bit tomorrow and laugh". I didn't laugh, but I did smile for the first time in about six miles.

Birdcage walk is longer than I remember. I ran it so many times in training, but it never felt this far. The signs start counting down from 800 yards. As you wheel past Buckingham Palace (invisible through the crowds) a gantry informs you that you've got the final 365 yards to go. The sun had broken through the crowds some time before but this was the first time I really noticed. Nothing else reached me as I put down my head down and willed myself over the line.

As I crossed the finish I spotted the cameras and thought of my Aunties who'd be watching and waiting. I straightened up and put my hands in the air. Just stay composed until you're over the line - don't fall to pieces where they might see.

I carried on for 50 metres or so over the line, as good etiquette dictates. No desire to cause a pile up. Suddenly staying upright is the most important thing in the world. I can't see where I'm putting my feet. Huge racking sobs come from nowhere as I try to make my way to the ramp where the timing chips are removed. Joy, relief but mainly exhaustion. I have, it seems, nothing left.

A hand on my shoulder. A marshal steadies me as I climb the ramp. "It's okay, you did great". We exchange a few words about his marathon in 2000. It's enough to bring me back to the world outside the narrow confines of my head, where I've lived for the last two hours, trying to convince myself to ignore the pain, ignore the cold, ignore the urge to stop or even slow. It's a relief not to be alone anymore.

The last two hours of my 4hr50 Marathon were more mental than physical. I know I could have enjoyed it more if I'd taken it slowly, spent time soaking up the atmosphere, treated it as a nice trip around London. But I wanted to see what I had in me. I'm glad I did.

I couldn't have done it without the support of all the people who sponsored me, emailed me, made messages for my iPod or cheered on the day. Thank you all.

My Result:


I say, with not unjustified pride, I am a Marathon Runner.



[1] Nor, probably, glom of nit.
[2] 42.16km for my continental friends.
[3] Yes, really.
[4] Half a centimetre. Which is too much.

2 comments:

alicepawley said...

Yayayayayayay!!!!! Congratulations!!!!! Well done!!!! :-)

Auntie Em said...

Thanks Alice! I'm slightly less stiff today, but no less happy.

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