When I left you, I had turned to face the second half of the London marathon course. The challenge had become darker, and I was feeling less sure of myself. I don’t think this is an uncommon reaction at this point of the marathon. Many people report feeling low after the jubilation of Tower Bridge and realising they have the same distance to do again. And I think for me, this natural reaction was compounded by having to leave my boys behind for the next 13.2 miles.
The other thing which serves to bring you back to reality with a bump, is as soon as you have crossed Tower Bridge, you are met head on by runners coming in the other direction. These superstars have already completed a further 9 or so miles, and are nearing the end of their journey. This is a bit of a kick in the teeth when you are only half way round. I started to let my mind wander in to a numbers game, which is a dangerous business. ‘If I took over 3 hours to do half the distance, realistically it’s going to take me a good bit longer to do the second half as I’m getting increasingly knackered. It’s about 1:15pm just now, which will mean it will be well after 4:15pm before I cross the finish…arghh! How am I supposed to keep moving that whole time?? I’ve been moving since 10.00am. I did not think this through!’.
Meanwhile, my mum is trying to cut in to the internal commentary with relentless positivity. It is not going down well with me. I am now moving at a VERY slow pace. But at least I’m still moving. At this point I was able to try to reason with myself that the more I moved and quicker I did it, the closer I was to finishing. And this did spur me on a bit. I also (stupidly) kept looking at the other side of the road and thinking that would be me soon – soon I would be approaching mile 23. Yes, it’s another 8 or 9 miles away, but that’s only three Park Runs, and when you look at it like that it’s entirely do-able.
I gritted my teeth and kept my head down. As we traversed the Isle of Dogs, the smile which had boosted my mood previously, was becoming thin and grimly fixed. The Isle of Dogs is a strange bit of the marathon. Whilst there are always people cheering you on, this particular bit is eerily quiet. It made me feel as though I was moving through something of a ghost town, and this isn’t entirely surprising given it is primarily a financial and industrial area. And it was a Sunday. But the people who were there kept me going. It seemed like a peaceful place, and I’d like to visit without running for several miles beforehand.
These miles seemed to go on forever. I was becoming desperate to once again see runners coming in the other direction, because finally it would mean I was actually the one further ahead. This happened not long after mile 18, but by this point I was too tired to care. Not just that, I was beginning to have problems in the toilet department. The portaloo stops could not come quick enough. I was feeling increasingly in need of a pee, but when we finally made it to the next toilet area, I couldn’t go. It was suddenly as if I didn’t need. My mum said to keep moving, running would help. It didn’t. In fact, by mile 21 I was frantic. Every step was painful. I felt like I was going to pee myself, but again when I went to the portaloos at mile 22 there was nothing. I had stopped running altogether a few miles earlier, and the realisation that I was unlikely to run any more of the race had all but dawned on me. My mum kept trying to persuade me it would all be over quicker if we ran some more of it, but it was to no avail. All I could do to keep going was hobble on.
I was dehydrated. Another rookie error. I had read all about it, and thought I had been managing my hydration sensibly. The advice is to drink when thirsty. That way you don’t under or over hydrate. I had taken on fluids regularly, and couldn’t understand how I could have got it so wrong. It was at this point my mum pointed out that my continued breastfeeding would have left me more susceptible to dehydration. Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that? And why hadn’t she warned me of this when I could have done something about it?! I was dehydrated before I’d even started, because I’m notoriously bad at drinking enough water, and my breastfeeding had compounded matters. If I had realised, I would have been sure to be more mindful of my water intake in the weeks before the race. Ah hindsight, you absolute bastard.
By this point of the race, I was a complete mess. I wanted to see my wee boy. I cried to my mum that I just wanted to be finished so I could cuddle The Munchkin. She quite rightly pointed out that the only way to see him quicker was to move quicker. I tried to persuade her to run ahead, but she refused to leave me. She thought I wasn’t going to finish if she left me behind. I wouldn’t have given up, but I would have taken far longer. I settled in to a state of misery. Why on earth had I decided to do this? I would never do a marathon again, that was for sure. I wanted to be done but knew I was still in all likelihood well over an hour away from the finishing line. I couldn’t smile, and I was struggling to acknowledge the support of the crowd. In my head, I was going around in circles…’Come on, you are doing this to support mental health and to get people talking about it! Yet you may not finish this because you are almost at the point of a complete breakdown. You’re starting to panic. Panic is not going to help you here. Which is all well and good to say, but how on earth are you going to finish?! Even if you do finish, what if you are too slow for a medal and finishing time?!’ And I was still desperate for the toilet…
It was at this point, I was given an unexpected boost. To my right, I heard frantic cheers of my name. It was more than the usual cheer from well-wishers in the crowd. I squinted in to the sun. And saw Val and Laura, a friend’s mum & sister-in-law! I was momentarily confused as I staggered over to them, ‘What are you both doing here?!’. They were there to watch Cameron, Val’s son and Laura’s fiancé. And here was me thinking they had made the trip from Edinburgh especially for me 😉 They were just what the doctor ordered at that moment. Two friendly, familiar faces amongst the crowd. They don’t realise how much they kept me going that day, and made me feel I could really do it. Thank you ladies!!
As I waved goodbye to them, I was mindful The Husband and The Munchkin were to be waiting to cheer us again at mile 23. I was struggling to keep my emotions in check, and every step sent a horrible shudder to my bladder. It was all in my head, my mum kept reassuring me. I knew this was true, but I had too much in my head. I needed the boost of seeing my boys. But mile 23 came and went, and they weren’t at the organised cheer point. I felt utterly deflated. But at the same time, knew I now just needed to get the last 3 miles done so that I could see them. But not without another toilet stop at mile 24! One for the road, as it were.
By this time, Big Ben was in sight. We were still walking, there was no way I could manage to run, which was really frustrating for both me and mum. I was trying to enjoy the last mile or two. The crowd was appearing increasingly intoxicated. I didn’t blame them one bit – it was a beautiful spring day, and the atmosphere was fantastic. People had clearly been enjoying the refreshments from course-side pubs and restaurants. I made a mental note to do the same the following year! The crowds were jubilant and I was trying my best to regain a momentum, or at least not stop. Then a perfect piece of serendipity. When I looked to my right, I saw The Husband and The Munchkin waving! It wasn’t a mirage, they were really there. We were all tired and emotional, but it was the boost I needed to see me to the end.
Gone were the worries about completing without a finishing time or a medal – I knew I could do it now. So, we just kept going. It was all we could do. But we didn’t slow our pace, and although I couldn’t run, my walking pace was decent. We passed Big Ben, and fairly quickly afterwards we passed Buckingham Palace. It was the final leg, the home straight. Soon we would see The Mall, and the famous finishing line. It was glorious sunshine and I was finally feeling happy again, not least because I knew we were nearly there and nearly finished! But I was also just so grateful for the experience, and to have made it to the end of the course. All of the agony and misery of miles 19 to 24 seemed like a long time ago.
We decided to run the last 200 metres. A sprint finish, if you like. Or, more accurately, a pained jog of a finish. It was brutal, but I was so happy to be there and crossing the line. I remembered seeing photos of people finishing with their hands in the air. And even though I was looking at a very slow time, I wanted to feel the jubilation of finishing and I wanted my photo to reflect that. So, we jogged, we grinned, and we threw our arms in the air.
We crossed the line at 06:54:52. It was way behind our anticipated time of under six hours. But we had done it! We had run the London Marathon! And we got our medal.
After collecting our kit bags from the nearly empty trucks, we hobbled to the nearby reception put on by the charity. The Husband and The Munchkin were waiting outside, and it truly was a joyous reunion! We limped inside and made a beeline for the sports massage queue. It was less than half an hour since we’d finished the race, and I turned to mum as we sat waiting for our massage:- ‘Do you know, I reckon if I trained more, I could get my time right down…’. The mental pain of the last several hours was already fading, and I was contemplating entering the ballot again for the 2018 race.
The physical pain of the exertion was undoubtedly helped by the sports massage which followed, and I’m pleased to report I didn’t really suffer too badly from cramps or the like after. We enjoyed a Magnum, salt & vinegar crisps, and a LOT of water. The lovely charity organisers gave us a goody bag, and took a video of us with The Munchkin.
It was an amazing day. I was so humbled by the crowd support and in awe of every single person who attempted the race alongside us. Heroes, every last one of them. And I am so thankful to every single person who helped us on our way to the marathon, for every sponsor, and for every real & virtual cheer. We couldn’t have done it without you all. You were with us every step of the way.