This post-race update comes to you from the sofa, feet up with the recorded coverage of the marathon on in the background (next up: re-watching Line of Duty, having dropped off mid-episode on Sunday night. #Ted’sNotBent).
It’s been a fantastic weekend, and I’ve so many people to thank.
In a crisis of confidence on Friday evening (I have those on a frequent basis!) I’d pretty much talked myself out of posting the first blog. That self-doubting ‘Siren’ voice was wheedling away in my ear and I wasn’t feeling on good form at all, despite a lovely evening out in London Town in fantastic company.
Saturday morning, and the feeling had lifted. I was designated bag carrier at Finsbury Park parkrun, where a particularly reluctant-looking bunch of runners huddled together against the bitterly cold wind. Quite by chance, we bumped into some fellow Valley Striders teammates who we had no idea would be there. Conversations were struck up with runners sporting t-shirts from races local to us (including the infamous Dewsbury 10k design from a couple of years back – a personal fave). Pitch up to any parkrun and, regardless of how unfamiliar the surroundings, kindred spirits will emerge and congregate. On marathon weekend, that feeling of being part of a running community was heightened. As my good pal Lou said: it’s our Christmas.
Saturday was easy-going. A warming post-parkrun breakfast, sorting out race kit and pace bands (remembering clubmate Myra’s top tip to keep to a 5k pace plan – less stressful than checking splits every mile). A little snooze, planning travel to the start line, a delicious early tea (I can heartily recommend a mild Thai meal as perfect carb-loading) and a cheeky pint. Then, there was nothing more to do than relax.
Over the past few days, there have been so many messages of support (including your responses to the finally-posted first blog). It has been quite overwhelming and I’ve been genuinely touched. Those messages really boosted my confidence and helped to quieten down that nagging, self-doubting anxiety. By Sunday morning, I woke up feeling excited about the day ahead and in the perfect frame of mind to enjoy every moment.
Race day morning, and I’m wishing I had a photo of the scene in our Northern Line carriage to London Bridge. Seated opposite is my brand-new young runner friend, looking slightly pensive at the prospect of her very first marathon. We are flanked by some very impressively attired goths in full make-up, leather trousers and massive platform shoes. There are one or two people who fall into neither Runner or Goth camp. We all gently jostle along together, in silence save for the occasional softly murmured word.
On the train from London Bridge to Maze Hill, and by now the carriage is 100% runners. We look particularly stylish in our sacrificial jumpers and hoodies. The energy level has risen several notches. Selfies are snapped and bananas contemplatively munched to a backdrop of chatter and slightly nervous laughter. As our tightly packed mob shuffles out of the station, I look up to see a black Brass Monkey rucksack inches in front of my nose. I have one exactly the same at home and the familiarity of seeing it here was oddly reassuring. I fell into conversation with a vivacious South American lady as we ambled up the hill to the Green start. We reassured each other that being slightly under-trained was definitely a good thing.
The Green start is where the record attempt runners set off from, so I was milling about with Snow White, Big Pink Dress, a tree, a 3-person sausage dog and the by now infamous Big Ben.
Time for lying back, sipping a cup of tea and taking it all in. I felt privileged to be there, experiencing all of this again. Toilet queue, bag on the bus (looking forward to seeing that again later), toilet queue, finding a quiet spot for some strange-looking warm-up moves. Toilet queue again.
Into the start pen, and O Fortuna is thundering out over the loudspeakers. It had played as I stood on the start line in previous VLMs, and gave me the same thrilling stomach flip at the thought of what was to come. We shuffled from our pens to the start line, whistling along to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, dispensing with our crap jumpers and bin liners (or the new VLM capes being trialled to make this part of marathon running eco-friendly). Checking garmins, exchanging nervous grins, wishing each other a good race. Cheering as the men’s elite line up was introduced (Eliud’s cheer slightly louder than Mo’s on the Green start).
The race itself passed by in a blur of sensory overload.
My first few miles were a little quicker than planned, despite my attempts to hold back. My heart rate felt quite high even though the running wasn’t taxing (yet). Relax, calm down, take it easy, breathe, I told myself. I tried to strike a balance between staying focussed and soaking up the stimulating atmosphere, music, sights and sounds. By the time I rounded the Cutty Sark, I’d settled into a steadier rhythm and was having a lovely old time.
Thank you MarathonFoto for the pic, sorry I’m too tight to actually pay for it…
My Valley Striders supporters did a sterling job. Just as planned, Lou, James and the Yorkshire flag (right way up) were there at mile 11. Other club mates had made the journey just to support, too. I didn’t spot them all, but just knowing they were there somewhere helped keep me focused. Aside from the bad patches, I tried to give some form of acknowledgement for all the shout-outs – they really did give me a lift. Every now and then I’d glance in the direction of the shout. Sometimes my eyes would meet those of the supporter, a fleeting moment of connection with a complete stranger. Once, the face I found myself looking into was one of a club mate who I hadn’t realised was going to be there. I exclaimed in surprise and we managed a high-five as I shuffled by. There was a sense of support from the other runners, too. We were all in it together.
I’d seen another Yorkshire flag back in Greenwich. It being early in the race, I had the energy to shout ‘YORKSHIRE!!’ at them and received a rousing cheer in return. (probably not the time to mention I’m actually from Lancashire…shhhh!)
Now, with 10 miles to go, the pace that had felt ridiculously easy in the first few miles was fast becoming a heavy-legged slog.
‘Paying for that ambitious pace now, aren’t you? Bit of an amateurish mistake, that’. Ah, hello Siren.
I was ready for her, though. There was no way she was going to win out and spoil today. I mentally shrugged her off with a wry smile. I remembered a line from Greg McMillan’s ‘Pre-race Pep Talk’ article, saying that as soon as you descend into a pity party your pace will slow, and that every runner around you is feeling the same pain as you.
Aside from the ear-ringing support, here are some other things that helped:
taking pressure off myself (the advantage of less-than-perfect training!)
counting in my head (my VS pal Alex had reminded me of this tip from Paula Radcliffe’s book – it really helped to calm my mind)
thinking of the splits flashing up on the screens of everyone tracking at home (or out on their Sunday runs!) (VS buddy Steph said this had worked for her, and it did for me, too)
remembering running with a young Mini Mermaid in her 5k challenge in Roundhay Park a few weeks ago. She was tired after two circuits of the hilly course, with one still left to do. Staying positive throughout, she announced ‘I’m going to challenge myself’, got stuck in and got it done.
making it look good for Lou and James, now stationed at mile 23. (I was going to shout ‘Now we’re suckin’ diesel!’ at you here, but I forgot).
the thought of all the donation funds
the things us coaches say to our young Mini Mermaid charges, including: you can do it.
Just a parkrun to go now, and in front of me is a panda. I follow writer/presenter Kate Carter on Twitter and knew she was going for a world record in a full-body panda suit to raise money for the WWF. As I went by, I peered into the big, fluffy panda head and said ‘Is that Kate?’. (Could there be a more ‘Very British Problems’ thing as worrying about committing the social faux-pas of mis-identifying a running panda?) This panda waved its two paws enthusiastically. She went on to get her record.
Into the Mall, and trying to believe I’m moving towards the finish line. Only in my head is it a sprint finish. I don’t think there was one step since Blackheath where there wasn’t the most amazing support. Then finally, the relief and joy of crossing the line.
If I get the chance to do this again, there is one thing I’d do differently. ‘I’m looking forward to that little tinny of G&T’ said the lady next to me as we made our way to the baggage busses. It’s her club’s rule to pack one away in the kit bag along with the baby wipes and Compeed. Genius.
My supporters did a sterling job of looking after me. There was even a chickpea and halloumi wrap waiting for me at the ‘V tree’ meeting point. I’ll still be raving about it in years to come.
Anything can happen on marathon day. I was lucky: I loved it. For me, it was a weekend of seeing people at their best. I experienced kindness, generosity, and masses of support. I hope that others experienced the same, whether running, volunteering or supporting.
Even the Cheese Club who’d reserved the section of The Salisbury pub that we sweatily encroached on for our post-race refreshments were extremely generous in sharing their bar stools, chocolate truffles and cheese (I said yes to the first two).
VS runners and supporters club at The Salisbury (Cheese Club just out of shot)
The girls who go through the Mini Mermaids programme learn to recognise that the ‘Siren’ voice that makes them doubt themselves is an imposter. The danger is that they start to believe it. Their self-worth is eroded and they shy away from stepping out of their comfort zones.
So, as coaches and girls, we all stop, breathe, and turn the volume down on her. We quieten our thoughts and listen, until the underlying, quiet confidence of their ‘Mini Mermaid’ voice can be heard. Whatever the challenge they are facing – physical or otherwise – they know that they can take anything on and whether they succeed or fail, it’s ok. In fact, it becomes impossible to fail, as their success is measured by their willingness to try and to support others in doing the same.
Thanks to your incredibly generous response, girls who need it most will be able to experience this life-changing programme for themselves.
Thank you so much from me and Mini Mermaids for your INCREDIBLE response to the fundraising. The total currently stands at £1,685. You’ve completely blown us away with this.
Here’s the link if you’d still like to donate.