Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Marathon Day

There is only one problem, if indeed one views it as such, of living out in the sticks in that getting into London is not a quick journey even though it is only about 55 miles away. That difficulty is quadrupled on the day of the London Marathon as 35,000+ runners and their supporters descend upon the capital city. The first train of the day doesn't get there early enough for any interviews etc so the only option we had really was to get a taxi, which although expensive works out cheaper than staying overnight in London. So we were up at 4am and ready to leave at 5am so we could get right to the start before the roads are closed off which is a complete nightmare.

So at 6:45am Mike and I were deposited safely in Blackheath village which is only a short walk away from the 'green' start where I would be meeting the people from Guinness World Records.

Thankfully, the enterprising shopkeepers had opened already so we were able to take shelter in a pleasant cafe and have a warming coffee plus I had a pain au chocolate (YUM) as I hadn't had time for any brekkie before we left (oh, all right then, I'll admit it - I forgot in all the excitement of getting ready!). There were toilets too so we both took advantage as queueing for the portaloos at the start is horrid and actually using them even more so as one can imagine. At 7:30am we headed towards the start, stopping outside the pub to see if any other forumites from Runner's World were around and then headed off to the start.

The Common itself is criss-crossed with paths which were all covered in mass of runners all heading to their respective starts - 'red', 'blue' or 'green', each with its own coloured blimp flying high above so one could easily see where to head. You can just make out the green blimp above the balloons if you look carefully.

The sun was starting to come out but it was pleasantly cool and thankfully no rain yet. En-route we walked past the usual barrage of balloons in funny shapes. It was quite windy and one of them seemed determined to head for the skies before the occupant of its basket was quite ready!

I loved this scary looking monster balloon!

Arriving at the entrance to the green start we suddenly realised that we would have to part company as Mike would not be allowed in. Of course my nerves were taking hold by then and I wanted to go to the loo again so I had to go through and queue for the loo whilst Mike waited patiently outside - there's a lot of waiting around involved for our long-suffering spouses and supporters. On my way back I met Blisters and Runner Bean (we all have silly nicknames) and then outside we were joined by Johnny J a special chum from RW.

We decided it was about time I got my knitting gear loaded and so Mike carefully tied all my balls of wool onto my apron. The weather forecast was for heavy showers and so we'd boxed clever and put all the wool into small plastic bags with handles to tie onto my apron. I did a test run to see if they were positioned OK, Mike did some minor adjustments, secured my race number and then I was ready for the off.

Does my bum look big in this?

I always get emotional when I give Mike a hug before we part at the start and I started to get a bit teary. Then we separated and Mike headed off into London whilst I picked my way through the bodies sitting/standing/stretching in the enclosure to find my way to the Celebrity Area where the Guinness World Record people were waiting to register all of us wannabes. I watched Gordon Ramsey (chef), James Cracknell (Olympic rower and adventurer) and Ben Fogle (TV Presenter and adventurer) being interviewed, saw Floella Benjamin (TV Presenter) arrive plus several other actors etc whose faces I recognised but whose names escaped me.

There were lots of photos taken with various other GWR wannabes - girls dressed as Superwoman, a Father Christmas, 3 Firemen in full gear, 4 of the 'convicts' who were joined together last year and 2 clowns. Then I had to cast-on my 30 stitches ready for Scott Christie to count them and check my needle size etc before the off.

The sun kept coming out and it was warm but as soon as the clouds passed over it went very cold and I was quite shivery. Then it was nearly time for the off and I went and stood at the back of the pens as instructed. The starter went and we were off. The beauty of going from the green start is that you get over the start line quite quickly - I was right at the back and it only took 2 minutes. When I started from the blue and red starts it took me 10 -15 minutes to cross the start line. The system is that you wear a 'chip' on your running shoe and as you cross the line you run over some mats which activates the chip and your actual start time is recorded rather than the clock time. Throughout the course you run over similar mats so your 'splits' (the time you take to run each section) are recorded. It also serves as proof that you have actually covered the whole course and not cheated!

I started knitting as soon as I crossed the start line and settled into my slow, methodical rhythm, counting my stitches all the time in case I dropped one. People kept running past and wishing me well or exclaiming "You're mad!" Quite early on I was joined by Harriet from the Alzheimer's Research Trust and it was lovely to have a chat as it passed a few miles. She had intended to run it last year but sadly had to pull out due to injury. When we got to about mile 7 she spotted her partner and supporters so she stopped for a chat with them whilst I carried on. It rained a bit and my knitting got wet and became rather heavy. I wasn't worried at this stage because there wasn't any great length to it and the sun soon came out anyway.

The yarn I had chosen this year was thicker than my last effort because I found the thinner yarn dug into my hands in the latter stages and I thought the thicker wool would be easier on my fingers. Wrong, wrong, wrong!!! It was really awkward to handle and just got heavier and heavier as the knitting grew. I'd swapped my bamboo needles that I'd had problems with due to sweating in the heat, for lightweight composite ones and they at least were comfortable. By the 1/2 way point I really began to regret the extra weight of yarn. It had felt fine around my waist as I actually carried about the same amount last year. The problem was the weight on my forearms. I stuffed the completed knitting into my apron pocket to take some of the strain but that didn't make much difference. Oh dear. It became obvious that I was not going to have a comfortable second half.

Many runners from Runner's World and Fetch went past and said hello when they recognised me - too many names to remember (Cazz, Pammie, Mouse to name just a few). Many went past and said they'd seen me knitting last year and wished me well. One lady (from Fetch I think) said my balls of wool looked like multi-coloured candyfloss and that was a great description of the yarn! So many runners went past and said that their mother/father/aunt etc had suffered or was suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia and thanked me which brought a tear to my eye. It is such an emotional roller-coaster with all the runners striving to achieve their goals and the collective support is phenomenal.

I passed several groups of ART supporters and they all clapped and cheered which lifted my spirits then at mile 14 I saw Michelle and her group but I only dared stop for a quick hug and a photo before plodding off.

I knew that if I stopped and anyone was nice to me then I'd break down in tears and would find it hard to carry on. Michelle later told me something very funny - they handed their camera to a man standing alongside them and asked him to take a photo of their group. The man seemed surprised and exclaimed "You want me to take a photo of you?". Only later did they realise it was the actor Ian McKellan, aka Gandalf from Lord of the Rings! I love that Bertie Bassett is in this shot as the yarn I was using is called "Allsorts"!

Near to Mudchute station, I saw masses of blue balloons and the signs for the Runner's World supporters and I looked out for Support Group 1 who would be trying to spot me me but I couldn't see them. However, I did see several other supporters and I gave them a big wave and they waved and smiled right back. After mile 17/18 I had my real low point 'cos it rained. Not only did it rain heavily but it threw hailstones at us as well. By this time my knitting was very long, very wide and it was impossible to fit it all into my apron pocket. It felt like a lead weight hanging from my arms. In fact I really couldn't feel my forearms by that stage. This time the rain lasted for ages and I really started to struggle to pull my wool along the needles. Even when it stopped it was awful because of the weight with all that water in it.

I gave myself a jolly good talking to and kept thinking about why I was doing this. In times of trouble such as this I recall an image of my mum the week before she died. A living corpse, laid out on her bed, with staring eyes and no reaction to her surroundings. I remembered how awful it was as the dementia took hold of her. The periods when she knew something was wrong and nothing made sense to her. Her frustration and pain. How it had changed our lives. I thought of all the other people who are going through the same thing right now and their carers. I looked at her rings and prayed for strength - this time I was wearing her engagement and wedding rings. I thought about my lovely husband and imagined him telling me to keep on going and how proud he was of me. I dug really deep and I clawed my way back even more determined. I squeezed out as much water as I could and wrapped the scarf around my shoulders, tucking one end under my sports bra to secure it. As all my new balls of yarn were safely tucked up in plastic bags they remained nice and dry so were easier to work with.

At mile 22 I passed the support crew of Fetchies from Fetch Everyone and what a tremendous welcome they gave me. I waved to them all and they just stood there clapping and cheering. Behind my sunglasses (which I kept on throughout the rain and hail) there were many tears of gratitude. Thank you Fetchies, you were absolutely brilliant and you'll never know how much I needed that boost right then.

Miles 22 - 25 are a bit of a blur. I knew if I maintained my pace I was on target to get below 6 hours (my cut-off time) and my yarn was nearly all used up. The crowd was absolutely amazing and people were still out cheering and shouting their support even though the weather was horrid. It's the crowd support that makes the London Marathon such a special event. Without them it wouldn't be anywhere near as successful. At one point I overtook the 4 Irish Guards (we were passing oneanother throughout) just as 1 of them was dropping out. They were running with full backpacks which I believe weigh around 31/2 stones and he just couldn't carry on. The disappointment in the remaining group was palpable and I told them they were brilliant and to dig deep and just keep going. I hope it helped.

At mile 25.5 I knit my final stitches as I used up all my yarn so I draped my scarf over my arm and upped the pace, finishing with a bit of a sprint with my scarf held high above my head. Now I'm calling it a scarf but because of the thicker yarn it is more like a shawl/wrap as it was really wide. Oh boy was I glad that was over - 5:55:03 so as close as I could get to my deadline. Then I had to report back to the GWR adjudicator, Scott Christie and Amarilis Espanoza, to have my scarf measured (162cms) and then photos taken before I could go and meet Mike who was anxious to hear how I'd got on. When Mike finally saw it he could hardly believe how big it was!

I collected my medal and goody bag but then had to go all the way back down the Mall because there wasn't a tee shirt in the bag and there was no way I was going to miss out on that. I quickly got out of my wet shoes and into clean, dry clothing and we headed off for the train home. Mike had very thoughtfully bought me a cheese sandwich and a yummy muffin to tuck into on the way home and they went down a treat.

Sadly, we couldn't really hang around and be sociable as we needed to get home for the animals and then to get an early night as I needed to be up at 4:30am the next morning to get back into London for the ITV show This Morning.


Monica said...

I can just say one thing: WOW!!!!

Natasha said...

I've been reading your blog for about a year now (I found it when searching on google for information about the Christmas Pudding Race at Ashburnham Place!) and just wanted to say that you are truly inspirational, both as a runner and a person. Well done for everything that you've achieved, not least this weekend.