An epic journey

I thought I ought to mark the momentous occasion of running my first marathon by blogging about it. But the truth is, there are so many blogs out there about the London Marathon written by people like me but that are much more enjoyable to read , that I have felt a certain malaise over starting. I know I’ll regret it if I don’t get something down though, so bare with me.

Lets start with the training.

I won’t lie, the training actually nearly killed me. Long runs, intense midweek runs and the winter weather really didn’t agree with my arthritis. I had all sorts of bother- niggles and injury, flu symptoms after long runs and blood in my wee. It wasn’t pretty, it really wasn’t pretty. I never for one minute at any point in this journey thought that I couldn’t get to the end but  as the weeks ticked by I realised how painful the route from start to finish might be. That gave me a few jitters. But I had some wonderful support through some really awful weeks and that is what got me through. At one point I was literally running, sleeping and eating. Thank goodness for my wonderful husband who never once offered anything other than support and encouragement (he’s a better man than me, I’d have been right on his case had it been the other way round!) and for my wonderful bestest friend Emily for giving me a kick up the bum when I really needed it. In those darkest moments I had to dig really deep to find my motivation. But I found it. I found it by looking at my son and realising that he faces some really immense difficulties every day of his life in situations that we take for granted. It was that thought, (that he can’t decide to just give up when the going is tough), that kept me going.

I had a fancy contraption to reduce swelling in my arthritic ankle- it was an absolute miracle machine!

So as the weeks ticked by and 13th April ticked ever closer, my charity of choice – Ambitious About Autism, really rallied their support. We went down to London to meet them and look at the wonderful work they do. It was at this get together that I met Susan. Susan is a mum like me, newish to running and balancing that new found love with a busy family life. Susan also knows what it’s like to have a child with autism in the mix. We hit it off straight away. I was absolutely delighted to learn that Susan lives close by so we were able to run a few of our long runs together. I can’t tell you what a difference it made to ‘the journey’ to have someone to run those long runs with. It also turns out that Susan is absolutely hilarious. Which helps.

The big miles really took it out of me. I would come home and be barely able to speak for the rest of the day through exhaustion. I thought this was quite normal. Turns out it probably isn’t. I’d then have flu like symptoms for several days. Also turns out that isn’t quite normal either. But anyway, I got through those big mile runs without my arthritic joints giving up on me which was a massive relief (and totally unexpected though I was lucky to have found a supportive physio who understood that not doing the London Marathon was simply not an option).

So early April saw me appearing on Sky Sports News. That was interesting, seeing myself on TV. Hated being interviewed, really hated being filmed while I ran but really loved meeting up with other like minded ladies on the lead up to the Marathon. By this point I was getting quite giddy with excitement. 20 mile run under my belt and I really felt that I could do it on race day. It almost felt like the lead up to my wedding…everyone wishing me well and a a nervous excitement that I couldn’t really put in to words.

The week of the marathon saw me going to the Expo. Oooh wow! That is my idea of heaven! Running kit EVERYWHERE! It was oddly comforting to know that everyone else who was there was also in the final stages of the taper. Everyone else there had also run stupidly long distances in stupid weather just so they could all be in the same place at the same time as tens of thousands of other people. Runners are mental.

The night before race day and nerves still hadn’t kicked in. But in our hotel in London I was suddenly unable to sleep. Everything was laid out ready I had no reason to feel nervous but I just couldn’t sleep. I must have got a few hours though because when the alarm went off at 5am I had to fight the urge to press snooze.

I got myself showered and fed (small bowl of porridge…appetite had gone..) and we set off to the start. The atmosphere on the tube was hard to judge- it was so packed that I spent the entire journey with my face in some other mans armpit. As I got off I told myself that if I could survive that I could run 26.2 miles.

I said goodbye to my husband as I entered the ‘blue zone’. He wasn’t allowed beyond this point as he wasn’t running. I felt a strong sense of homesickness, I didn’t want to leave him. I didn’t want to do this by myself. For the first time on this journey I felt crippled by what lay ahead.

Thankfully, just the other side of the security was Susan. We met, put our bags on the lorries, did a wee and enjoyed the sunshine (boy it was hot). At this point I feel compelled to mention the female urinals. I walked in, confident that I could embrace whatever lay behind the half height barrier (‘I’ve had children and endured marathon training, you can’t scare me!’). What met me was a group of similarly perplexed females, all slightly nervous of getting their bums out and weeing standing up. I turned round and joined the long queue for the porta loo. Today was not the day to learn to use a she wee.

After an hour of milling about taking in the atmosphere it was time to get to the start pen. It felt odd. This was it. This was it and the people around me seemed so calm. I didn’t expect calm by this point. Maybe they’d all done it before?  I tried to remain calm, I didn’t want to give my naivety away. I just kept repeating  ‘I’m cool. This is cool. We’re cool’ over and over. I could feel my shoulders burning under the morning sun. I had not planned sun. Sun had not appeared for many months. I had not considered how sun may affect my run. I decided I had to wing it. For those that know me well, I don’t do winging it. Really, winging it is something I’ve never practiced. This soon became quite evident.

We set off, in high spirits. I saw my husband just after the start, I screamed and waved. This was it, I was running the London Marathon. Everyone around me was as excited. We were all going to be epic and win this, yeah! Go us! We over took the marching band and wished them well as we went by. I secretly hoped that would be the last time I saw them..I really hoped I wouldn’t be over taken by them but on balance decided it was probably quite likely.

Look, it’s Mo! I was *just* behind him

Mile 3 and my first gel was downed. All good. There were 3 start areas and at mile 3 we all merged. This was the first time I saw a rhino. And a man in a bikini. And a telephone box (running). Things were good. We pottered on, enjoying the atmosphere. Mile 6 saw our first cheering point from Ambitious about Autism. Yay! We were still in high spirits, still able to dodge the discarded water bottles by bouncing over them, still able to talk as we ran. I passed another Rhino though at this point I hadn’t realised there was more than one. That confused me…So I took a swig of Lucozade sport, just in case my blood sugar was already dipping.

Mile 9 saw some mental SheCanners who had come to cheer me on. It’s an absolute fluke that we spotted each other as the crowds on both sides of the barriers were still thick at this point. But I’d moved to the side to take advantage of the showers and as Sam was hanging over the barrier, so I almost ran in to her! I heard ‘go on Kate! oh! Kate. It’s Kate! Go on Kate’ as I ran in to her. That  was amazing and gave me a huge lift.

Mile 10ish saw Susan suffering with her hip and at some point between there and half way we lost each other. I stood to the side for a few moments to see if I could find her but I got carried in with another group and had to continue running. I cried a little bit, devastated that I’d have to continue alone. I had a long way to go still and I didn’t want her to be in pain and alone.

As I turned a corner, not far from Tower Bridge, I heard some amazing cheering. It was different, it wasn’t just the crowd noise that I’d already become accustomed to. It wasn’t name cheering or random ‘come on, keeping going!’ it was a solid clap. A rhythm formed and the clapping went on for some time. Then Tony the fridge over took me. There are no words. I was over taken by a man carrying a 6 stone fridge. I hit an all time low.

But soon enough Tower Bridge was there, I was on it. The noise was deafening- proper crowd whooping noise this time. I was looking for my brother and for Emily and Vic but the crowds were just too thick. However I was lifted and felt that I’d reached half way without pain. I could so do this.

By this point I’d had 3 gels and lots of swigs of Lucozade. I was feeling a bit full. But at mile 14 I took some blok shots to lift the mood. They sat heavy on the fluid in my stomach and I felt really sick. My fueling had gone wrong. I’d taken too much on too soon with too much water. I started to feel a bit fed up and tried desperately to take my mind off running. (I told you I couldn’t wing it!). I counted to 100 and back, I looked at the crowd and tried to guess peoples names. As the crowd called out people’s names I tried to guess what charity vest they’d have on as they ran by (I was totally rubbish at this by the way). As we entered Canary Wharf I really felt that I just didn’t want to be there. The sun was hot. I was fed up. I needed a wee but the toilet queues were too long. I hadn’t seen any of my supporters for ages. And I felt sick. At around 18 miles I put a cheeky walk in. There was no respite but at least it was different. I quite liked different. But the walk was brief- it’s hard to walk when you’ve got hundreds of people willing you to get running again.

The next 5 miles passed in a blur. I tried more gels but they weren’t going down. I remember getting to 20 miles and thinking ‘I was misguided to think that if I can run 20 I can cope with the final 6. 6 miles is forever away’. I sipped water to ease my thirst but my stomach was shouting ‘whooa!’ I high fived another friend at 22 miles who was on the Fetchpoint support crew and by chance I was running at that point…my walk breaks had become fairly frequent by then and it was getting harder to get going each time. At 23 miles I saw Vic and Emily. My god was I pleased to see that pair of nutters. I turned to look back at them as I ran by and shouted ‘I’m dying’. They didn’t seem that sympathetic. ‘ Yay Kate go on, you can do it’ they shouted back. It took all that I had not to turn around and sob back ‘no I can’t, I really can’t’.

It was at around 23 miles that I gave myself a talking to. ‘Are you really tired? Yes? But which bit is tried? Hmm?  See, you can’t decide can you? Which means nothing is tried so crack on’. ‘Why am I doing this? This is mental. I don’t do running. Running is stupid. I can stop when I see the next marshal. I can do that because…well….actually no I can’t. People are here to cheer me on. People want to see me do this. My kids will be so embarrassed if I don’t do this. Bloody hell, better run again then I suppose’ and so it went on.

25 miles and my husband hung over the barrier and shouted. I didn’t hear so he shouted louder. I heard. I saw him, tears welled up. I was doing this, I was nearly there. But the thing I learnt on this journey so far is that things change in a split second. One second I was literally bouncing, alive and ready to take on anything. The next second I was so low and having an almost out of body experience. As that mile at 25 miles ticked by, the London eye came in to view and Big Ben. I remember thinking ‘I thought this would lift me right at the end, that I’d feel epic and ready to finish this thing but actually all I want is for them to stop shouting my name’. I really just wanted to be invisible. I felt vulnerable, tired and sore and sweaty and worthless. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t take another step. After what felt like an eternity, red markers started appearing, telling us how far we had to go- 800m… ‘oh god not another 800m’ then 400m ‘really?400m? I can’t do it, honestly I can’t do it’ then 385yds. I could see Buckingham Palace and the huge crowds lining the Mall. ‘Oh good lord. They’re all expecting me to run this bit, aren’t they? Really? How on earth am I going to get from here all the way over there? …. One foot in front of the other, I can try that…after all I really don’t want to see that marching band again.’ and sure enough that got me there.
I did it.
I crossed the line.

I remember reading something where someone with more core strength than me said ‘make sure you’re not looking down or stopping your watch as you cross the line, you need a good picture of the finish!’ Well my picture shows me all but falling over that line. But I did it. 04:58:14 (and I actually ran 27.11 miles!). 38 minutes slower than the time I’d plucked out of the air long before I started training. But that suddenly wasn’t important. 
I’d done it.
However the most pressing thought at that point was my nausea. I had to stand still while they took my timing chip off and put the medal around my neck. As the medal landed on my shoulders I physically dipped and the poor lady handing out the medals had to catch my elbow. I was ok. I just had to keep moving. I walked around trying to work out which lorry my bag was on. My head was scrambled. I couldn’t think straight. So I opted to walk up and down a bit because well because I couldn’t think of anything else to do after 5 hours of running. Thankfully the lovely ladies on my baggage truck saw me coming and handed me my bag. I sat on the ground, tears welling. I’d done it and all I really wanted was a hug from my family and friends. At this point it felt like they were miles away but they’d gone to the post race reception, hosted by the charity. I just had to find my way to the rickshaw that was going to get me there. After some panic (I really hate crowds…) and a short phone call to my husband, I was bundled in to the rickshaw and on my way.

10 minutes later I arrived to see my husband and my best friends waiting for me. I can’t tell you how amazing that felt. I’d done it. I was reunited with my wonderful family and friends and I could get those damn trainers off. I tried really hard not to think about doing it again in 6 weeks time at Edinburgh. Oh god what a fool I was to consider that…

When I’m asked how I found it, I’m a bit lost for words. It was awful and epic in equal measure. It was hideous and hot and lonely and inspiring. It was uncomfortable and long and fantastic. I did it. It didn’t meet my expectations- I didn’t get the time I’d hoped (training hadn’t gone as planned and it was too hot maybe? Maybe it was just a lot further than I gave it credit for!) but I did learn an awful lot about myself. I learnt that I can do anything I set my mind to, that somethings aren’t fun nor pretty and aren’t sensible but they’re totally worth doing. And I learnt that I have the most amazing support in the form of family, friends and She Canners.

Support is everything. Speed isn’t important. 26.2 is a flipping long way. Running is a journey where, if you open your eyes and your heart, you’ll find more than you ever thought possible.

Sometimes, you need someone in your life that makes you feel sane.

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