Monday, 14 April 2008

4 hours 7 minutes 54 seconds: Tired & Sore but Succesful!

I did it! I ran the London Marathon! I ran the whole way and crossed the finish line in a blaze glory at 4 hours 7 minutes and 54 seconds. I may have looked tired, I may have slightly resembled a wet rat, but it was one of my finer moments.

First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me through this journey. The mix of sponsorship for WellChild, enthusiastic encouragement and calming words of advice I received kept me inspired through training, showed me reason when pre-race nerves wreaked havoc with my sanity and yesterday helped me put one foot in front of the other over the entire 26.2 mile course. You guys rock, and you were my rock, so thank you!

They claim the London Marathon is the best in the world because of its mass fundraising appeal, smooth organization and amazing race day atmosphere. I trained for weeks in the name of WellChild and benefited from the Marathon Expo, pre-race instructions and Realbuzz runner blogs on the FLM website. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the race day spectators.

The crowds cheered us runners as a mass movement. They played music, handed out oranges and jelly beans and belted out positive encouragement over almost the entire course. Children offered high fives. I'd added my name to my shirt since I heard the crowd would cheer you on by name by doing so. I didn't expect at least 50 people to personally cheer me on; men and women alike shouted "Gooooo Tanya!" "Keep going Tanya!" "You can do it Tanya!," "Oh yeah Tanya!" These were the same people who sit silently on the tube or pass me on the street without a second glance. The ability of this marathon to galvanize a community spirit unlike anything I've experienced in the UK struck a real emotional chord with me. It was a similar reaction to how I felt when I saw an elderly couple taking pictures of each other next to the street sign across from my office window: something simple, genuine and good that sent a shiver down my spine. These moments remind me to enjoy the little things in life.

In amongst the masses, were some special spectators near and dear to me. I tried to make eye contact with those shouting my name, but somehow managed to miss Chris, Jeff & Becky on 3 occasions! I also apparently ran right by Chris' brother Tom, as well as Cristin & Sarah from work! I did manage to spot Emily & Linda (also friends from work), whose cheers and support sign spurred me on at mile 24 and gave me the extra push needed to get through Blackfriars underpass, which was quiet without spectators, full of runners walking, lit by creepy orange light and spelling pretty fetid from the gross males pissing out of the watchful eye of the crowd (not that this stopped them at other points on the run - nasty)!

I was a little apprehensive about running in such a big crowd, and starting so far back from the start line (I was assigned pen 8 of 9). When it came down to it, I didn't find the crowds or initial positioning too constraining. The first several miles were fairly congested, but the pack slightly thinned after that and you just got used to weaving around people and dodging empty (or half full) water bottles being tossed to the side of the road - sometimes they provided a welcome splash! Around mile 3 the red and blue starts merge onto the same course (the course start is divided due to the mass numbers) and the respective runners actually booed at each other! I think this might be a good spirited tradition, but I found it pretty bizarre.

Around mile 7 after the Cutty Sark I spotted Canary Wharf across the river and thought, "I can't believe I'm going to be running there in about an hour - ahh!" Then around miles 10-12, the cool, sunny day turned sour in classic April style and the heavens opened. It poured cats and dogs and then it poured some more. At one point it came down so hard I could barely see. I then realized that my sneakers and socks were completely soaked and that I was going to be running for 2 plus hours with soaking wet feet. The rain itself was fine, the wet feet were not so cool. But the runners all persevered, and the crowd cheered on.

Around mile 16 the spring in my step started to fade. I felt comfortable for the first half of the race, but miles 16 and 17 seemed to drag on and were definitely my low point. My longest training run was 20 miles, and while the thought of 3 more miles seemed reasonable, almost 10 more miles did not appeal. Lots of people started to walk and talk about "absolute agony" was rife. I just kept thinking that each step brought me one step closer to the next mile, and to the finish. The crowds were huge on this part of the course, which helped too.

At mile 20 the route headed back in the direction of Buckingham Palace (the finish) and this gave me a mental boost. The crowds on the Embankment brought me home, and as I approached the final stretch around the St. James' Park, the skies again opened and the rain pelted down to deliver me across the finish line.

What a journey. I felt proud of my personal accomplishment, proud of my fundraising, proud to have taken part in the goodwill of the day. My legs are sore and feet are blistered, but every step was worth it.
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