It’s Hard to Keep Going

exhaustedThis is a lot more light hearted than the past few blogs but I think being able to laugh occasionally is no bad thing.  This came about around 10 years ago when a service user I was working with spoke of his lifelong ambition to run the London Marathon.  Within a few weeks we had signed up to run it together for the charity Mind.  Within a month the service user had panicked and withdrawn and I found myself facing the prospect of running it alone (as alone as you can be in a crowd of 20,000) and needing to raise £1200.  Training was not entirely successful but the account of the day is below.  You can still donate to Mind ( https://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/giving-to-mind/donate/?gclid=CNvy3a3autMCFY8Q0wodDUYGzQ ) and I’m they’d appreciate it.

I did it! I did it!

In 4 hours 39 minutes and 12 seconds, I ran 26.2 miles. I came 16736th beating around 20,000 people, although to be fair, that does include blind people, people on stilts and a giant robot. It was easy. Well some of it was easy. Quite a lot of it involved great pain and terrible suffering.

Despite the predictions of tropical storms and thunderous showers, I awoke to a pretty nice day on Sunday morning. I met my friend Ian at Charing Cross station and we packed ourselves like sardines into the train that would take us to Greenwich Park. Due to the blisters I had been getting each time I had gone running, I had taken to covering the balls of my feet with duct tape to reduce the friction. This had worked like a charm and I had been blister free for weeks. You can imagine how pleased I was when, sitting on the train hurtling towards the beginning of a 26 mile slog, I realised that I hadn’t taped my feet up that morning. Picturing blisters filled with blood erupting from my feet and running through Westminster making loud squelching sounds with thick footprints of gore trailing behind me, I grimly decided I would carry on regardless. Flicking through my kit bag I discovered that I had been saved. Paul and Sian, two of the kindest and most practical people in Wrexham, had appeared at the station in on Saturday to wave me off. As I was getting onto the train they presented me with a goody bag including sticky strips to treat blisters!!! Even better, my wife (who was born with more sense than I will ever have) had packed them into my kit bag. Delighted I taped these all over my grateful feet, happy in the knowledge that when I failed to finish the marathon now, it wouldn’t be because of my blistered feet.

We arrived at Blackheath Station and began the long walk to Greenwich Park. We were passed by men in Rhino suits, two men in a camel costume and a host of superheroes and people in charity vests all the colours of the rainbow. The information that had been sent out was quite explicit that there was to be no urinating in people’s gardens on the way to the park. Normally a walk to the park without urinating into someone’s garden is not a challenge for me, however, after a morning of gorging on water I had a bladder like a barrage balloon and seriously considering breaking my first rule. It occurred to us that there had been no mention of whether or not any other toilet functions were permitted in people’s gardens or whether we could urinate anywhere in public apart from gardens, perhaps in wheelie bins or in the streets. Distracted by these musings we entered the park and saw queues for the ’ample toilet facilities provided’ snaking up and down the park as if someone had just announced tickets were on sale for the Elvis comeback tour. We waited in the queue for a few minutes. Scratched our heads as to why people were popping into the portaloos and not emerging for ten minutes, convinced they were taking the morning paper in there with them, before dashing off behind a tree whilst being scrutinised by the local constabulary.

We walked to the top of the hill where the race was to begin. At this point Ian, who was wearing jeans, a tee shirt and slip on shoes, asked one of the officials at what point we would get separated. The official looked at me in my jogging top and shorts and informed me I would have to stay outside the gate while the runners went through into the pen behind. I clearly do not have the look of a distance runner yet.

I said my goodbyes to Ian and went through the gate. The atmosphere was that bit more electric. Ten minutes until the start and I had to find the right van to put my kit into and go to the toilet four more times. This done I got into the queue and with music pounding, joggers stretching and cameras snapping all around me, I began the slow amble towards the start line, determined not to jog until I had crossed the beginning point lest any energy be wasted.

The first ten miles were quite enjoyable. I felt a freshness and euphoria that shoved me along. Strangers were shouting “Come on Keir” (I had written my name on my top in duct tape the night before. Remembered to put duct tape on my shirt. Not on my feet though…) and I was trotting along at a brisk pace, overtaking more people than were overtaking me. Every time I saw someone else in a MIND vest I would jog over and patronisingly wish them good luck as I ran past. Despite all my overtaking, there was always someone in front of me who looked like they really shouldn’t be there. Some shuffling pensioner who may well have dodged out of a home and found their way onto the course. I pictured a residential home where nurses were franticly searching cupboards and looking up and down the street annoyed because “Mr Smith has got out again”.

After 5 miles I came to my first Lucozade station. Here, thousands of bottles of Lucozade are picked up, sipped, spilt and thrown to the floor. The road looked like two bin lorries had collided and spilt their contents into the street, while the surface itself had assumed the texture of fly paper, greedily sucking at the soles of my trainers as I slowly plodded along.

After 9 miles I was overtaken by my first Womble. This was not an event that inspired confidence in my running abilities. The miles went by. I was looking forward to mile 15 where my wife and child might be waiting for me. The fifteen mile marker arrived and it was in the middle of a tunnel with no spectators to be seen. Disappointed I trudged on, knowing I would have a chance to see them at the 18.5 mile mark. Then suddenly at the end of the tunnel I heard a familiar voice shout my name and looked up to see Ian’s 6ft 8 frame looming out of the crowd as he poked the family in my direction. After a quick dash over to see them I was inspired…to start walking. There was something about having hit the milestone of seeing them that took all the energy out of me. Granted I would see them again in 3.5 miles, but for goodness sake, that was 3.5 miles away!! I walked/ran for the next 3 miles, watching other MIND runners that I had sailed past earlier casually cantering past me. I picked up the pace at this point. I didn’t mind walking for a bit but there was no way I was going to walk past my family and friends who had stood in the rain for two hours to see me. Sure enough at the 18.5 mile mark I saw Ian’s giraffe like profile in the crowd and ran over to them. “You’re doing brilliantly” they said. “Little do you know” I thought. And started running again, waiting until I was around the corner before slowing to a walk.

I had began the day with my Ipod in my pocket, beating out inspiring tunes to keep me going. After mile three I had it at full blast and still couldn’t hear a damn thing due to the bands, supporters and PA systems along the side of the road. Both times I saw Ros I had meant to give her the bloody thing rather than keep it in my pocket. Unfortunately as soon as I laid eyes on them all thought of such mundane tasks leapt from my mind. It is because of this that my most impressive injuries are two raw, weeping sores at the top of my thigh where my Ipod rubbed against it for four and a half hours.

Miles 19-22 were the hardest. I was trying to run for a minute, then walk for a minute. My legs were really hurting. My right arm was starting to cramp and my calves were refusing to contract anymore. My muscles were running out of the sugar they needed to push me along and no matter how much Lucozade I gulped, no matter how many jelly babies I took from the crowd, the sudden burst of energy I was waiting for failed to materialise. I was struggling to pick my legs up off the floor. I had adopted the shuffling, sliding gait of a toddler who is trying their parent’s shoes on. I was looking at the floor, my back was hurting. I stopped running and started walking again. If there was one thing that that was more painful than the running, it was the walking. Muscles seizing, cramping, spasming. Stopping was worse still. I really wanted to wrap myself into a ball on the side of the road. I wanted my mum to come and rescue me. I just wanted it all to end. I had begun the day with the wildly optimistic plan of finishing around the four hour mark. As the run went on I moved the goalposts somewhat and hoped for 4.5 hours. I later revised this to being able to finish the race that day, then to being able to complete the race without the St John’s Ambulance brigade dragging me off the route wearing a shiny blanket. By mile 21 I just wanted to live. I tried to stretch out the tension in my muscles. Perversely my muscles were as loose, pliable and flexible as they had ever been, no doubt due to their three hour warm up.

Having lived in London for a few years, after mile 21 things started to look more familiar and I became aware of how little there was left to do. Granted ,I was in tremendous discomfort, and granted, I still had about an hour of it to go, during which time it was unlikely to get better. Still, 5 miles left through streets that I knew well. I started to lift my head a bit more. “Keep going Keir” “You’re looking great Keir” “Almost there Keir” the crowd shouted. And I ran. Slowly. I caught up with one of the MIND runners who had overtaken me earlier. We chatted for a bit, but he couldn’t match my pace and dropped back. I disappeared into my head and began counting my steps. Every time I got to a hundred I started again. Sometimes I lost concentration so started again. With my brain distracted from the torture I was putting my body through, the final miles started to be eaten up. Then came the ultimate humiliation.

I could hear a rumbling in the crowd. I heard extra shouting. I heard children laughing and calling excitedly. A shadow fell in front of me and from behind my left shoulder he came. Running like a serious athlete, tall, proud, a huge grin on his massive head. I had just been overtaken by a seven foot beaver. There were two miles to go. With effort I thought, I could catch that beaver. But there was nothing left to give. The beaver disappeared into the crowd of runners in front and I resigned myself to always thinking of myself as a crap marathon runner.

We ran past big ben.1,2,3,4. Past the houses of parliament 38,39,40, past St James Park, 89,90,91. As I reached the corner before Buckingham Palace I heard someone shout my name. I looked up and saw John, my friend since playschool, beaming at me from the hoard of spectators, urging me on. I also spotted that the beaver was in sight. I pointed my finger at the beaver. “Him” I shouted to John “I’m going to beat him”. The muscles that had been so slack for the past miles, so wasted and exhausted when trying to run to ‘get a good time’ suddenly realised that there was someone trying to beat me. My pace increased. I pulled ahead of the beaver. I was going to beat him. No matter that I was going to finish long after I had expected to. In this matter at least I was going to win. The beaver turned his head. He saw me go past. He saw me looking at him. My heart sank as the beaver picked up his pace. He came up fast behind me, legs pounding, tail flapping behind him. I tried to run faster and found myself not jogging but running, not running but sprinting. With a hundred yards to go and 26 miles behind me, after having hit the peak of exhaustion, after wondering if I would ever finish this bloody race, I found myself galloping towards the finish line with a seven foot beaver hot on my heels.

The pace was too much for him and he dropped back. I flew across the line like I had won Olympic gold in every event. No matter that fifteen thousand people had finished before me, I had won.

It took me about an hour to find my wife afterwards. Mainly because I spent a lot of time lying on the ground hugging myself, wondering how badly you had to be hurting for the St John’s people to drive you to your family on their little milk float. I made it to the MIND reception where I was showered and massaged and then we headed to the pub. Ian signed up to run for MIND next year while I seriously considered chopping my foot off to stop it hurting. Never again. Not for a year at least anyway.

In this age of terrorism, cctv and increased surveillance many people are concerned at the amount of cameras that follow their every move. Not me. Flicking through the BBC coverage it appears that I ran though London wearing a fluorescent top during one of the most heavily covered sporting events of the year and I didn’t show up on camera once.

Random Statistics

Distance run – 26.2 miles

Lucozades consumed – 6

Number of attractive girls shouting my name during race- Hundreds

Number of attractive girls shouting my name since race has finished – 0

Number of Masai Warriors overtaken – 6

Number of blisters – 3

Metres run backwards after realising I really did want that jelly baby – 2

Children shouting in pain after holding out their hand to be slapped as I ran past – 3

Number of Beavers beaten to the finish line – 1

A great day.  Do have a go if you’re considering it.

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