Marathon #1 : London Marathon 2008
13th April 2008, London, UK
Finish Time = 5:27:50
On Sunday 13th April 2008 I started and completed the London Marathon, fulfilling a childhood dream, saying goodbye to my Grandfather and raising £1,026 for Cancer Research. After 8 months of training I entered the race knowing I had a knee injury that would prevent me from running. Rather than deferring, I decided to do whatever was necessary, so that my hard work and sponsorship I had raised wouldn’t be for nothing.
My family has always had a close involvement with the London Marathon, both of my Uncles have run it, one of them 9 times, and growing up we would often go to London to my grandparent’s house for marathon weekend which was right by the start line. As kids we would stay and watch it on TV while my parents, Uncles and Grandparents would assist as official marshals. By having a fascination with it as a child it became a mystical and magical day, I grew up with it as part of me and I always wanted to run it. The problem was, believe it or not, once I turned 18 and could legally enter, I didn’t actually like running and hadn’t kept it up since my younger days. My Grandmother passed away when I was only 7, and after I turned 27 my Grandpa’s health started to deteriorate (although he would still make his way to the marathon to cheer on the runners even in his late 80s). I decided I should start training for the 2008 marathon as I wanted him to be able to see me carry on the family tradition and complete it.
On the 10th October 2007, a month after my training began my Grandfather lost his battle against acute myeloid leukaemia. Instead of running the marathon to have him see me complete it, suddenly I was instead running it in his memory and to raise money for Cancer Research.
My training leading up to the race had been good for a while and then marred with injuries, culminating in an ITB / knee injury that I just couldn’t get rid of and prevented me from actually running properly. I was facing either having to walk the marathon or drop out altogether. Then 2 weeks before the Marathon my sister was attacked in London and instead of preparing the way the running guides suggested, I had spent the 2 weeks leading up to the event by the side of her hospital bed while she was in a coma. I decided to go ahead with the event to try to keep me grounded during a traumatic time.
We went out for the traditional meal on the night before. It was strange not to have my Grandfather there, and it also didn’t feel very long at all since we were last sat there at the same table the year before. I had marshalled the marathon in 2006 and 2007 so I was used to the traditions we had before the big day. I think I was worried about walking the whole way and also a bit disappointed that after all my training I wasn’t going to be able to run. I felt like I wasn’t properly entering if I was going to walk, even though I was planning to speed-walk, not just saunter along.
On the morning of the marathon a group of us made our way to Blackheath and to the Red Start. We then lined up at our start zones, my cousin was also running but was in a different zone.
When the horn blew at 9:45 to start the race everyone cheered, and we slowly walked towards the start line. As we began to get to the start line everyone started to pick up a jogging pace like a huge herd. I couldn’t face just walking this part so I started a slow jog, worried about my knee. It was a great feeling to cross the start line and actually be doing the London Marathon. I jogged for a while then decided I would slow down to a speed-walk for a bit, worried about my knee causing me problems so early on. Quite co-incidentally as I stopped my jog I ended up alongside a guy of about 50 – 55, power-walking. He was called John, and he had power-walked the London Marathon 3 times before. I power-walked with John for quite a way, we talked, and it really helped me to feel like power-walking wasn’t a shameful way to be doing the marathon at all. I power-walked with him until about 5 or 6 miles. I stopped to talk to my Uncle marshalling at our usual spot, they were surprised how well I was doing and how quick I was going, considering I had told them I was walking it. I think most people had pictured a slow walk as you would to go to the shops. It was never going to be like that. Soon after that I caught John back up and told him I was going to try jogging for a bit. We wished each other luck, shook hands and I made my way onwards.
With a renewed sense of belonging and a real feel that I was going to go the distance I started enjoying it. I would jog and walk with my head up, looking at the crowds, taking in the atmosphere, thanking people who urged me on by name and generally enjoying the day.
I was trying roughly 5 minutes of jogging, then some speed-walking, then another 5 minutes of jogging. Then came the first hard part – the heavens opened and it started raining, hard. The temperature dropped too and it became really cold. As I didn’t have a lot of hair to absorb the water it quickly ended up just running down my face, literally dripping off my nose and chin. My shorts under my outer shorts got soaked too, and gradually it made its way into my shoes and socks. As I only had a vest on I was very cold and it made it really difficult to keep going.
I jogged while it was raining as opposed to walking, as I was hoping I’d make it to some sunshine sooner. I hoped it wasn’t going to be like this for the rest of the race as I didn’t know how I’d go on for so many hours while so cold. Eventually the rain did stop and we had sunshine again. It took a long time to completely dry out though.
By mile 12 / 13 I was crossing London Bridge. It was an amazing view while running over it and it was great to get to 13 miles – I was half-way through the course and equal to the furthest distance I had ever run. I think I could feel the pain lingering a bit in my knee, I had it strapped up in a Cho-Pat knee strap which was helping to stop me thinking about it. At mile 13 you can see all the people running back down at miles 20 – 22 ahead of you. I didn’t find this off-putting as some people do, I just thought to myself that I’ll be running down that way soon. However, it ended up being a lot longer away than I thought it was going to be. I had some family and loved ones supporting me and I instantly saw the “Keep Going Paul” banner they had hung out.
A woman jogged up from behind me and asked who Peter Piper was, having read it on the back of my vest. I told her about my Grandfather, about the type of person he was and she was very touched by the story. She asked questions about him and I told her another of his grandchildren was also running today, she was really nice and said how he would be proud and is sure that he’s watching down on us.
As I started to get into the miles leading up to 20 (around 17 / 18) the rain started again and temperature dropped. A guy ran up beside me and made a comment about the rain, I said I’d only just about dried out from the last lot and he agreed. The rain stopped briefly, and then started again with some small hail stones at around mile 20. It was becoming really hard to keep going, my knee was getting really painful to move and I was soaked.
It seemed to take forever to get back to mile 22 to see some friendly faces. As I finally got to 22 and saw my friends some people in the crowds gave me high-fives as I went past and someone shouted “Look, he’s still smiling!” – while being soaked and limping.
After mile 22 it became even harder, the rain had stopped but I was still wet and now my knee was really in trouble and pure pain. I tried to speed-walk but it was actually worse. If I stopped jogging and went back to a walk, my leg muscles felt like they were about to seize up / cramp, and also walking was actually more painful for my knee as it had to bend. I found it was better if I kept my knee bent in one position and then tried to jog, running normally with my left leg but throwing my bent right leg forward in a kind of hobble-jog. The crowd were amazing, and I was overtaking many people who were just walking slowly at this stage. The crowd would go crazy when they saw me in obvious pain but still trying to jog while hobbling. It was definitely the right idea to have my name on the front of my vest, and lots of people shouted encouraging things to me, at one point I was literally thanking people or giving them the thumbs up every couple of seconds.
The pain was getting ridiculous in my leg and every now and again I would just close my eyes and think “This hurts so much”
In the last few miles it really helped to think back to why I was doing this and to think about my Grandfather. He would hobble around for most of his last few years and wouldn’t complain once. I’m sure he was with me for those last few miles.
A runner came up alongside me at around mile 23 and said something like “That’s looking painful, do you reckon you’ll make it?” I looked at him and replied “Oh, I’ll make it alright”. He said “Good man”. It was then I realised the thought of not making it had never even entered my mind. At no point throughout the race had I ever questioned whether I would make it – I was always going to make it, and I had always said to myself in training that if I started that race I would finish it, no matter what.
I had been in contact with my parents and my Mum was going to try to come down from the hospital to see me at mile 25 and then at the finish. Dad had been unsure about coming down because of the situation with my sister, and I didn’t think he would come. However it sounded like he was coming too and they were making their way there. Just as I passed through the mile 25 gate and was alongside the London Eye, I got a call from Mum to say they were by the Houses of Parliament – just up ahead of me. As I turned the corner by Parliament I saw them, they shouted encouragement and it was great to see them.
I carried on and eventually reached a sign saying only 800 metres to go. I looked at my watch and it was around 5:23 hours into the race. I wasn’t in a state to start working out how long 800 metres would take me to run at the hobble-jogging pace I was doing, but I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to make sure I completed the marathon in a 5:2x time rather than a 5:3x one. I wanted a twenty-something minute rather than a thirty. I don’t know how, but I started to run properly. The pain seemed to just disappear for a while and I was running at a proper 9 – 10 minute mile speed. As I rounded the corner by Buckingham Palace I saw the familiar sight that had been my computer desktop wallpaper for the last few months – the three finishing gates.
I ran towards them, it was almost surreal.
I crossed the finish line and it was an amazing feeling. An official put that all-important finisher’s medal around my neck, I looked at it and couldn’t stop smiling.
In the days following the marathon every muscle in my legs ached and my knees were painful especially the left one. Getting up and down stairs took me a while and made me look very funny. A lot of people complete a marathon and then afterwards say they would never do another one again. I’d definitely do another one, but only if I didn’t have the knee injury. I’m so glad I entered this year’s one, even up to the last week I wasn’t sure if I was going to, with the injury, lack of training and then the mental and physical exhaustion of what had happened to my sister Kate, spending all of my time in the hospital until all hours rather than preparing.
But I am SO glad I didn’t defer. After all these months I completed the huge challenge I set myself, despite all of the set-backs and all of the things that might have beaten less determined people. I desperately didn’t want to lose the sponsorship money I had raised, or feel bad that the money that was donated I had ended up getting without earning it. I also didn’t want to carry the emotional aspect through to the Marathon in 2009. Running the Marathon in my Grandfather’s memory helped me to deal with him passing away. All throughout the training, the long winter sessions in the dark, in the cold and in the rain, all through the injured times when I was in pain or having to treat various injuries, I always thought of him and he still felt close to me even though he was gone. Completing the Marathon was to close that chapter, to do one last thing for him and to say goodbye and I didn’t want to stretch that out for a further year.
I spent countless hours reading about running, about injuries, stretching techniques, training schedules etc. I trained for months, running 4 – 5 times a week. I suffered injuries to the arches of my feet, my Achilles tendon, my calf muscle, the inside of my left knee, the centre of my knees, the outside of my right knee and ITB problems. I’ve put my back out, not being able to bend or sit down for days and have spent hundreds on physio treatment and massages. I’ve run in the rain, the dark, the cold, on my own, and I’ve limped 4 miles home late at night when my knee went in a training session once.
I dreamed about finishing the London Marathon since I was a child and every single day since I started the training, but often worried about whether I would even manage to start on the day at all, with my on-going injuries and problems. Despite this, after completing the Marathon it made everything completely totally and utterly worth it, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. My memories of those months of 2007 and 2008 will be of a hard challenge, which was much harder than I expected it to be but ultimately one I was able to face head on, take anything that was thrown at me and complete the goal I had set.
Now I think to myself “What next?!”
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