21/04/13. Marathon achieved.
I’ve had some time to digest the M-Day experience before writing this, and regaled more than a few people with some of the details, so I’ve been able to reach the conclusion that it was a great experience. I am very proud of completing the marathon. I will treasure the medal, and every second that it took me to get to the finish line, for the rest of my life.
After an early start from Luton I met up with several TEAM! members at the pre-start gathering point, where we all shared our nerves and last-minute coping strategies. With different estimated finish times we were assigned to different starting pens, so we said our good lucks and split up. I think my nerves might have got the better of me at that point if I hadn’t been in the same pen as several TEAMsters, lining up for the whistle with Alex, Katie, Anna and James. Being in the final pen of the mass start it took us a full half hour to get to the start line (at which point the timing chip on your shoe kicks off your personal time). Finally, we were off.
It was a beautiful day for a marathon – maybe the perfect day for it. The sun was shining but the air was still fresh when we started, and the good weather brought out the crowds. Some of the early pubs we passed were playing music for us, and a surprising number of people had rigged/dragged speakers outside their home to play tunes for the hordes of runners streaming past their doorstep. Alex, Katie and I stayed together and we got a lot of supporting shouts when people spotted us in our matching Diabetes UK tops and purple TEAM! hats.
The day warmed up as we did, and I was glad of the showers at certain points along the route that send a chill mist across the road. M-Day was the warmest weather I’d run in for at least seven months, and probably only about the third time I’d run outside in shorts this year. (After all, I did complete a reasonable portion of my training in sub-zero temperatures.)
My supporters were brilliant. I had a whole gang from Luton who managed to cheer from a crazy seven points along the course (if you’ve ever tube-hopped around London to support someone during the marathon you’ll realise what an effort that was), shouting mostly* supportive words as I ran past, and even waving signs. I also had my parents to look out for, and Katie’s and Alex’s supporters, too. The lift it gave me to see anyone I knew was amazing – I was grinning massively after every batch of cheers. Well, up until the point where the grin became a permanent grimace of pain.
Through to the half-way point we were doing well – ever so slightly off a 5-hour pace, but going strong. It was after then that things became difficult. I could already feel The Knee by 12 miles and it became progressively more painful. I pushed myself a bit further, but at around 16.5 miles Katie and I dropped into a walk for the first time.
My running pace suffered from then on. Katie pulled me forward for a bit longer, repeatedly encouraging me back into a run and keeping me at that run longer than I would have managed on my own, but eventually I slowed so much that she pulled away.
The last third of the route was hard. I estimate that I walked between three and five miles of the total marathon distance. Some of the running over the last seven miles or so was pretty slow, but I knew that every step I ran was another step I didn’t have to walk, so I kept pushing myself back into it. By then I had my music on and I was playing a game where I walked for one song and then ran for the next. And repeat.
At each mile marker past mile 18 I was calculating how long it would take me if I had to walk to the end from that point. But there was never any doubt in my mind that I would finish.
The pain was definitely showing on my face, which garnered me a lot of support from random strangers yelling my name (“Head up, Riz!”) – and every single shout helped. Every one gave me a little push onwards.
By mile 24, as I limped past my parents (for the second time), every single step was painful: my bad knee on my left side and most of my leg on my right side, probably due to me unintentionally favouring my bad knee. My lower back was aching (as the pain in my legs increased I ended up running a lot more with my arms and upper body) and my feet were beginning to hurt. I ran-walk-limped on.
I managed to run (really run) the last few corners and the final straight and to lift my arms as I crossed the line. I got my medal, got my tag clipped from my shoe, and got rather emotional - flooded with relief that it was over, with a lot of physical pain, and with a lot of thoughts about Em.
This was my first and last marathon. I can see why people get hooked, because the pain does fade and the experience is unique. If it had been my fitness that held me back, I could even see being tempted to try and better my time. But it was injury that slowed me down and I'll still be carrying that injury in the future. This was just the once, just for Em.
I was the last of TEAM! to limp across the line. You can see the rest of the TEAMsters’ results here.
Favourite bit of the course: Tower Bridge. Lots of supporters and a great London landmark to run across.
Favourite London landmark: Big Ben, because it was right near the end.
Best supporter sign: a tie between the man holding up “Finishing is the only f___ing option” at 7 miles, and the supporter in an elephant costume waving a “Come on, random stranger” sign at 24 miles.
Most enthusiastic supporter: my dad. At the point when I was walking he cheered me past, then ran ahead to wave at me again. And then did it again. And again. (And by then I managed to run again and left him behind.)
Best through-the-pain running tune: the Thundercats theme tune. I limp-sprinted to that.
*After shouting "only eleven miles to go" at the (painful) 15 mile mark, Rob is no longer allowed to pick his own cheers.